Friday, 22 July 2011

MUSIC: EDM, pt. II - an album and gig review

Early Day Miners @ The Lexington, King’s Cross (Sunday Dec 6, 2009)

EDM are heavy. Not ear-bleeding in their settings, or wall-of-sound in their lack of arrangement, but heavy in their emphasis on big, dynamic riffs and bass-grooves that sweep you up, without overpowering, or straying into the baroque of mathrock, metal, whatever. EDM share a musical language with shoegaze (currently being revived trashily, by the likes of No Age… and prettily, by School of Seven Bells). Unlike any of the above, EDM take what they need for the sake of a flowing, rushing layer within their sound; not a screen to disguise lack of tunes, or an amniotic haze, but a crucial component to songs whose words you can hear, and whose worlds you can inhabit. Any comparison to Radiohead is likely to sound like hyperbole or make you think Muse, but only a few recent songs, like ‘Arpeggi’, ‘Bodysnatchers’, and the live version of ‘Videotape’ come close to what EDM have been doing for years with this kind of surging, pulsing, organic music. (FYI: Mainman Dan Burton learned his craft as a producer from Daniel Lanois, who worked on all of U2’s best material.) Oh, and he can actually sing; not ostentatiously, but with a distinct resemblance to Peter Gabriel.

Tonight, EDM play an even split between the gothically-tinged All Harm Ends Here (2004), the post-rock leaning Offshore (2006), and their new foray into (or towards) mainstream rock, The Treatment. Opening the set, there’s something ritualistic about the simple refrain of “all harm… ends here / old faith…for-given…” as if the song’s impression of a long march has brought us to a place of sanctuary. Confidently, EDM follow up with two of the best songs from the new album, ‘So slow’ and ‘Spaces’, which manage to fit in squalling wah-wah solos worthy of The Cure, without breaking the flow, as a lesser band would (filling in while they wait for the guitarist to finish). Mid-set, we get a run of older tracks, namely ‘Deserter’ and ‘Sans Revival’ from Offshore followed by ‘Offshore’ itself. Composed as a string of images with haiku-like precision, the songs draw a thematic link between the devastation of the Civil War, and America post-Hurricane Katrina. I’ve said it before, but ‘Sans Revival’ (more like a deferred chorus to ‘Deserter’) is one of my most-played (and most shivers down the spine as you try to harmonize) songs of the decade. It’s hard to quote EDM without making them sound like a defeated, or depressing band, but the lyrics describe the moment before escape, before resolution, before defiance they can best express with recourse to post-rock crescendos, or desolate drone-scapes that depict the vast chasms of human experience to either side of what we can say at all, or bring ourselves to say.

Two more new songs follow: ‘In Too Deep’ and ‘How to Fall’, both underlining the band’s newfound commitment to strong choruses the audience can yell along to, and impressionistic lyrics that work through repetition. The former might refer to someone drowning before they even hit the beach at Normandy, and the latter refers to a prizefighter who’d rather be beaten than be fake, but with repetition your understanding alternates between image and symbol, suggesting: emotional pain in a relationship, commitment to art over commerce. Switch back: someone’s dying here, someone’s taking real punishment. Already, all of these new songs are as vital as the best of the old, and yet the old are made new – like the closing number from All Harm, personifying urban decay as a vampire “drain[ing] all life away”; re-arranged here as if it’s something from the second-side of Joy Division’s timeless Closer. That’s to say, the electric organ setting should be cheap and ersatz, but instead these shrill drones rise up like castle-walls, like a fortress that (this time) keeps feeling outside, because feeling means pain.

And yet. Andyet-andyet-andyet… they’re so damn hopeful! EDM know they’re not fashionable, and they’ve been ignored for years, or dismissed for reviving the sounds of yesteryear (slowcore, shoegaze, whatever) when they’re actually refining ideas, effects, and studio techniques the “originals” didn’t necessarily use to the fullest. A line of people queue to say thanks for coming all the way from the Midwest (from Bloomington, Indiana) and I’m one of the more hesitant wellwishers because… actually, I don’t figure out what I wanted to say until afterwards, on the nightbus home, which is that I’m grateful they're doing this, but I also feel sad for all my friends who beat their heads against the same brick wall, and this has been one of the handful of gigs I’ve seen – ever – that was captivating and urgent and life-affirming at every last moment.

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