Ex-Easter Island Head


Rocket Recordings

From astute use of simple ideas multiplied comes music with acute beauty, says Jakub Knera

Since their first album, released twelve years ago, Ex-Easter Island Head has been on a quest to redefine the sound of a guitar, approaching it from a unique horizontal perspective. Hailing from Liverpool’s experimental scene, they eschew digital effects in favour of physical modification and guitar preparation – a method that enhances their live performances and creates a distinct sound texture and compositional style.

Brought up on Reich minimalism, they relied on repetition, constructing their music based on patterns produced by tapping the guitar with mallet sticks, but with a process that evolved rather than just relying on mechanical repetition. They are less interested in vertical walls of sound but rather in the horizontal construction of space, grounded in looping and layering, seeking beauty in detail and simplicity multiplied to the maximum.

On their previous, highly rhythmic album, Twenty-Two Strings, they pushed their musical boundaries, creating polyrhythmic structures and rushing motorik compositions. This evolution in their sound, reminiscent of the Glenn Branca Ensemble, among others, is further showcased on their latest release, Norther. After eight years, the band, now a quartet with the addition of Andrew PM Hunt (aka Dialect), continues to draw from their unique methodology of playing guitars with mallets and sticks, painting sonic palettes at the intersection of minimalism and ambient music.

The album’s opener ‘Weather’ emerges inconspicuously from the silence – the band built itself six-note randomisers, constructed from haptic vibrational motors taken from old mobile phones, which “dance” across guitar strings, creating a sound which recalls field recordings, the audio capture of nature, changed by the weather conditions. Repetitive phrases multiply, the bass line comes in, and the waves of music mesmerise. It’s far from codified noisy post-rock, but rather a subtly space-appropriating music that merely covers the repetitive sound. Similarly, ‘Magnetic Language’ leads towards an accumulation of vocals played through smartphone speakers and then amplified by guitar pickups. The result is the analogue of an Auto-Tuned choir, an exceptionally emotionally poignant track with a crescendo in the final. It is the essence of Ex-Easter Island Head: one small element multiplied until it adds up to something remarkable.

The band adds some percussion – a snare drum can be heard on ‘Norther’, whereas ‘Easter’ is strictly acoustics, using mostly cowbells. But it’s relatively continuous, patiently evolving music. These tracks summon the traditions of Steve Reich or Rhys Chatham traditions and Norther reminds me of Sarah Hennies’ Intervention of Romance – but where the American artist’s music continues steadily, the Liverpool quartet’s repetitive puzzle generates a larger whole. Such an accumulation of sequences is brilliantly heard in the title track, where it gains momentum, trance-like, leading forward. 

On Norther, Ex-Easter Island Head show how these single and simple patterns repeated ad infinitum offer the potential for highly developed suites. One idea is soaped up into infinite layers creating sonic forms; poignant pieces brilliantly played by eight hands. Standing, as it were, in opposition to rock’s impetus, the band concentrates on individual phrases, which gradually develop, demonstrating the incredible beauty and possibilities of the electric guitar sound stripped of its rock ethos. They delve into the subtleties of sound exploration by attaining exceptional levels of sensitivity combined with fractious arrangement in order to showcase emotional beauty in a post-minimalist way.

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