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Listening Party

Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1

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Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1

Southern Lord

“Old Black” is the name of the first of the five long tracks that make up the new album by Earth. “Old Black” also happens to be the renowned nickname Neil Young has given to the heavily customized vintage Les Paul he’s been strangling for several decades now. Which is not to say that it’s an empirical fact that Earth mainstay Dylan Carlson named the cut after Young’s main ax, but it does make perfect sense. “Old Black” steps in right where 2008’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull left off, with Carlson draping his deliberate, dusty six-string twang over a barely ambling backing, surfing the sustain of his handful of simple chords and making the occasional wiggle of string vibrato stand in for the excitement of flaming fills or some such frippery. It sounds a lot like some of the loud, slow, restless music Young has made in recent years, although, of course, without vocals, much less Young’s signature warble.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but if it’s a tribute, it’s telling. Much of Young’s music these days would be sort of generic in other hands; it is, in large part, his voice, his guitar tone, that animates it, makes it special. While Earth has never operated like your typical rock band, from the titanic woofer-rattling metal drones of its early recordings on through to the slow-motion stalk of its recent spaghetti-Western sound, it has always been in motion, progressing, if slowly, from one attack to another. Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1, however, shifts very little from its predecessor. Keyboardist Steve Moore is gone and cellist Lori Goldston has stepped in as Carlson’s main foil, but it makes surprisingly little difference. Angels is, if anything, even slower, less sprightly, than Bees. And Carlson is no Young. Earth has proven more durable a listening experience than anyone could have imagined 10, much less 20, years ago, but Carlson doesn’t have the same kind of distinctive hand. When he makes music that essentially boils down to gesture, as he does here, it could be Bees outtakes. (A passing co-worker who spent a lot of time with Bees took Angels 2 for that album, even after stopping to listen closely.) It could, in fact, be anybody. This is a perfectly respectable late-period Earth album, and unless Angels 2 provides some unsuspected post facto revelation, you’ll be perfectly fine skipping it.

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