Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: The Earlies, The Enemy Chorus

It’s not that long ago that The Earlies could not have existed.  J.M. Lapham, a guy from Texas, meets Christian Madden, who lives in northern England, at a sound recording earliesclass in Manchester UK.  Back in Texas, Lapham meets Brandon Carr in a record shop.  Presumeably Madden, the guy from England, meets another Brit, Giles Hatton.  The four have never all met but they start sharing music over the net and before long The Earlies are born.  They start releasing EPs in 2002 but they don’t all meet until 2004 when they go on tour to support their first album, “Those Were the Earlies”.  While on tour the band expands to 11 members. 

“The Enemy Chorus” is their second album and it lists 16 members.  Unlike many contemporary large ensemble groups that use their huge membership primarily for massed vocals, The Earlies sound like they use, and need, all 16 people for both music and vocals.  This is a very rich album.  Opening track “No Love in Your Heart” moves from an orchestral string drone to space electronics, a violin vamp, a discofied bass riff, martial snare drumming, keyboard overlay, building to a massed crescendo of drums, bass and synths – dead stop – music returns with exquisite Beatles harmonies singing lyrics that immediatly put you in mind of “A Day in the Life”.  All this in 1 min 50 secs.  It all works and it’s glorious.  The Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles influence is strong throughout “The Enemy Chorus” in vocal harmonies, lyrics, song structure, Ringo-style drumming, and often brilliant use of a wide range of instrumentation. 

The Beatles may be a main influence for the Earlies but they’re not the only one.  “Gone for the Most Part” is an orchestral piece that sounds like it could have been a warmup number for Frank Zappa’s Yellow Shark sessions and the transition to the following track, “Foundation and Earth” is pure Zappa.  In an entirely different mood, “Little Trooper” contains a passage that gave me shivers the first time I heard it.  A solo voice is singing the line “You falling down again” while disembodied people are chattering in the background like unwanted voices in the head.  On the following line “And it’s a long way down my friend” the band breaks into Beach Boy style harmonies for the first time on the album.  It’s almost impossible not to think of Brian Wilson’s much publicized descent into depression (and, thank god, subsequent courageous recovery).  The effect is chilling.

It’s not all good, however.  The Earlies tend toward plodding rhythms which lends a touch of monotony to the album as a whole.  In addition they are not strong melodically and while they do beautiful harmonies they have few if any vocal or instrumental hooks.  On the plus side, the very wide range of instrumentation and song structure the Earlies use saves them from the repetitious boredom that besets other groups that have issues with rhythm and melody.

The Earlies are an ambitious group with gorgeous and varied harmonies, and a broad and exceptionally well deployed range of instrumentation.  “The Enemy Chorus” has its problems but when they fly, they soar and they fly often enough to make the album more than worth the trip.  I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

Music from this CD can be heard on Tuned In To Music Podcast 005 – Playlist 1

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06/16/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews

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