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Earthling Society
England Have My Bones Danny Riley , July 30th, 2014 10:55

These days the underground is awash with bands who hark back to the plethora of obscure, druggy psychedelic bands of the 70s. These bands are often united by a tendency to pass a combination of motorik beats and echo-and-fuzz drenched guitar off as works of daring ambition. It all functions well as head music, but can anyone really get excited by it? This tendency is at best lazy, at its worst strangely reactionary in its unimaginative aping of the radical sounds of the past. 

Although Earthling Society occupy this scene in a superficial, stylistic sense, they definitely bring something new to the table. A good indication of this might be the cover art, which is spectacularly lacking in taste and might lead you to expect some kind of psychogeographical folk-metal rather than the brain-bludgeoning space rock encased within, and a welcome change from the washed-out visuals employed by most contemporary psych acts.

Essentially the music is heavy space rock played with a Commune sensibility; by which I mean the no-holds-barred, egalitarian approach engendered by bands such as Amon Duul II and Ash Ra Temple in Krautrock's golden age and carried into the 21st century by the likes of Hills and Goat. Despite this, there's a fearlessness here; an audacity that allows Earthling Society to stretch beyond the limitations usually imposed by rooting a bands style in a vintage aesthetic. Their sound may have a base in the churning repetitions and endless, everyone-soloing at-once improvisations of seventies freak-rock collectives but they also move into jazz, ambient, noise and stark neofolk in ways that are both convincing and delightfully unexpected.

Opener 'Aiwass' opens with all the relevant signifiers; tambura drones, hand percussion, electronic oscillations and phased-out cod-raga guitar phrases. However anyone expecting a bucolic psych-out in the pharaoh's garden will be in for a surprise; shit gets real at around the three minute mark as the drums set up a pounding rhythm of tribal tom rolls, the guitar sets up an insistent dirge-riff and the electronics coalesce into an overpowering miasma of synth-squall. Everything's given pretty much equal weighting in the mix, amounting to a murky psychedelic mush.

Although when Earthling Society are in the midst of a wig-out it's all pretty rollicking and enjoyable, it's often how the band chooses to bookend these jams when the arrangements are at their most intriguing. 'Tortuga' opens with gentle phased guitar and an immersive synth wash that seems to inhabit the sonic boundary between kosmische and New Age music, whilst ending with a creepy synth preset/fairground ride loop that puts an unsettling finish on the piece. Equally interesting is the ending of 'Aiwass', which consists of two minutes of effect pedal-saturated, stereo-panned atonal guitar-mangling and brings to mind both the kamikaze fuzz assaults of Mainliner's Mellow Out and the narcotic noise-splurges of Skullflower. The cover of 'Journey In Satchidananda' sees a coda of twinkling chimes, rudimentary synth bleeps and tremolo-picked oud. Or is it a mandolin impersonating an oud? Whatever the answer, it's clear that on England Have My Bones, this band are just as concerned with creating surprising textural backdrops as monolithic rock-outs. 

Arguably the albums centerpiece, I approached Earthling Society's interpretation of Alice Coltrane's work with some trepidation. How could a heavy psych-rock band from Lancashire put any kind of useful spin on a seemingly untouchable classic of spiritual jazz? It seems however that Earthling Society's kosmische credentials are readily transferable and the whole thing works surprisingly well, with the rapturous and virtuosic spirituality of the original inverted into a strutting display of space rock. Cecil McBee's agile but anchoring bass riff is reborn as a chorus-enhanced depth charge, whilst the Society's guitarist Fred Laird condenses the most memorable parts of Pharaoh Sanders' fluttering sax improvs into starsailing heavy metal leads, adding his own bluesy flourishes and atonal effects. At points the listener is allowed a few moments of respite, but the band always comes back with an ever-thickening haze of electronic noise and guitar fuzz, all propelled onwards by the monotonous-yet-momentous rhythm section. Around the ten minute mark the band dispenses with all pretenses of jazzy improvisation and sets all controls to "intensify", and at this point the piece begins to sound like 'The Great Gig In The Sky' as played by My Bloody Valentine during their 'Holocaust' section. This is a good thing. The pudding's been thoroughly over-egged, and by Thor is it righteous.

The closing title track is perhaps the album's strangest. Opening with a salvo of keyboard noodling that brings to mind those videos of Sun Ra playing keyboards behind his back, the track segues sharply into a mournful neofolk outro of acoustic guitar and skronky overblown flute, before reaching a denouement of dark, ambient drones. After the surprises of this album, it seems fitting that Earthling Society choose to end their album with a track furthest away from their core sound and aesthetic; heavy psych reaches its only conclusion, space rock comes full circle and delves down into the cold, dark earth. 

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