Pulp infamously requested their fans in the liner notes of This is Hardcore not to read the lyrics while listening to the music. Frontman Jarvis Cocker said it was merely a joke, as many music listeners have a tendency to read through the liner notes while the music plays behind them. What music fan doesn’t from time to time? It’s only natural to want to take in every aspect of an album, to truly soak in and feel the album. The Earlies, however, understand this desire and provide more fodder for feeding a music obsessive’s tendencies. The liner notes to their album These Were The Earlies are beautifully and psychedelically illustrated, providing an added sensory aspect to the listening experience. But this is only a minor part of the entire album’s ambience, as the true center of it all is, of course, the music.
Like musical forebears Mercury Rev, The Earlies create a gigantic, psychedelic soundscape, but one that’s quite accessible and lovely. Pulling from a vast arsenal of instruments and orchestral arrangements, The Earlies conjure up a mighty sound. It’s a sound with a vast array of nuances and colors, which seems ironic considering the monochrome album art (but really cool album art all the same). Vocalist Brandon Carr even sounds a bit like the Rev’s Jonathan Donohue, quirky and subtle, but largely heartfelt and sincere. Painting a portrait of ghostly ethereality on “One of Us Is Dead,” Carr muses “somedays I don’t know if I’ve grown too cold/grown too old/then left without saying goodbye” over a trippy, treated-brass journey of sound. And that’s just the beginning of this oddball excursion.
“Wayward Song” is a gentler, more sensitive ballad, offering the rumination that “in this life, we love who we can then they’re gone.” The standout “25 Easy Pieces” owes as much to John Barry’s film scores as it does to Pink Floyd, while “Morning Wonder” marries the unlikely bedfellows of Ennio Morricone and krautrock. The Earlies have a truly skewed interpretation of rock music, and their wide, expansive take on its many subgenres makes for a delightful and unpredictable experience. “The Devil’s Country,” however, is one of the wildest stops on this crazy trip. An uncontrollable whirlwind of effects pedals and brass, the song is like the noise coda of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” with a beat and a melody. It’s pretty out there, and it’s an absolutely amazing thing to hear. In fact, it almost comes closer to the electronic weirdness of Manitoba than anything considered “rock” music.
The strange thing about The Earlies’ debut is that it’s surprisingly cohesive and fluid, despite some of the material being culled from earlier EP releases (i.e. “Morning Wonder” or the colorful, majestic “Bring It Back Again”). This is an album that will certainly find many reading the lyrics while the music plays. As they used to say way back when, this is a “headphone” album, one you’ll listen to in the privacy of your own bedroom, looking over every trippy illustration, reading over every lyric and examining every “thank you.” The Earlies know how to put together an album, even if by Frankenstein methods, and have created one that demands your full attention. So go ahead, pull out the gatefold sleeve, and let the music take you where it may.
Mercury Rev – Deserter’s Songs
Dios – Dios
Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.