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Earth - The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull

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Artist: Earth

Album: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Mar. 19, 2008

More than one review has suggested that Earth’s latest album is the missing soundtrack to No Country for Old Men. Such a suggestion is due more to Earth’s new-found reputation for gothic Americana than for anything present on the seven tracks here. The Seattle-based duo’s previous studio effort, Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, might have fit the Coens’ desolate tale of murder in the desert wilderness, but the almost-hopeful, upward drive of this new album doesn’t match the film’s cruel grammar.

This music also has very little to do with two other things usually associated with (as well as often credited to) the group’s guitarist and leader, Dylan Carson: doom-metal and drone. The beats are too crisp, the articulation of the chords too clear to be classified with doom’s sludgy trawl through the low frequencies. As for the drone, there’s too much song here, too much overt structure, to make comparisons with Carson’s early ’90s output valid.

The Bees Made Honey… is Earth’s second studio full-length since their reincarnation as the duo of Carson and new drummer Adrienne Davies. The contrast between the moods of the two albums could not be starker: Hex was minor keyed, a skeleton being animated; The Bee Made Honey… is brighter, major keyed, the skeleton getting muscle and some flesh, getting, shall we say, a heart.

What exactly is The Bees… then? It is an open evocation of the primal rock-guitar sound circa 1969. Just like with a lot of late-’60s psychedelia, you can hear it piggybacking on the blues, stealing that music’s swagger, sexuality and strength. The tempos are of course about half as fast as anything played then (or now for that matter). We are still talking about Earth, after all.

The first 10 seconds of album-opener “Omens and Portents I: The Driver” are enough to hear the difference between the old Earth and the new one. First comes five seconds of buzzing, distorted guitar — classic droning Earth — followed by the crash of Davies’ bass drum. From here Davies quickly establishes a spare but swinging pattern of slow eighth notes. Once you hear Steve Moore’s Hammond organ filling in the empty spaces, you know you’re in very new territory.

Another new wrinkle is the guest appearance of guitarist Bill Frisell on three tracks. Frisell, also a Seattle resident, has always had a kind of cartoon approach to the guitar. That is, he idealizes it, exaggerates certain elements — such as alien chords, harmonics, asymmetrical phrases) and downplays others, such as conventional rhythmic pulse and the aggressive tone. This approach matches Carson’s essentialist songwriting. In fact, Frisell nearly hides in the background, his characteristic sound only poking out from behind the clouds occasionally.

Which is really the way the whole album works, with startling bits of color blazing through the thick metallic crust of Carson’s telecaster and Davies’ simple rhythmic foundation. This new, broader spectrum is heard best on “Omens and Portents II: Carrion Crow” where grand piano, Frisell’s pointillist harmonics and a bowed double bass give the piece an organic heft.

Carson says the heart of his music, old and new, is repetition and length. Using that base to write songs from, however, is not easy. Good ideas quickly wear thin, surprise is hard to generate and lethargy settles in easily, especially when a band plays as slow as they do. All of these problems plague parts of The Bees…. After the third or fourth piece, the surprise is gone.

The first incarnation of Earth could get away with broad strokes and 20-minute drones because it was more elemental, more mythic in its approach. This new incarnation seems much more concerned with history and narrative, and hence the burden is higher. They must tell us a tale, and we must believe it. I believe most of The Bees…; unfortunately, I don’t believe all of it.

By Matthew Wuethrich

Other Reviews of Earth

Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword

Legacy of Dissolution

Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method


Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1

Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, Vol. 2

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View all articles by Matthew Wuethrich

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