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The Earlies | These Were...The Earlies (Names)
I've never cared for the likes of The Flaming Lips or Mercury Rev, in fact I'd go so far as to say that I probably couldn't tell one from the other. That probably makes me the king of uncool, but it's a badge I'm happy to wear. While we're at it, those Beach Boys were an overrated bunch too. I do, however, own records by Sparklehorse (and I even like the first couple) and pretty much everything by Grandaddy. When I was a kid I liked ELO. This is by no means a comprehensive list of bands I like and dislike, but it is a list of the bands I like and dislike that sprung into my head while listening to this debut album by Transatlantic combo The Earlies.
A press release telling me I have "one of the albums of the year to listen to" isn't going to endear me to a record because, generally speaking, I prefer to make such pronouncements myself. The press release also tells me that The Earlies number four, that two are from the North of England, and two are from Texas. Their names don't quite match up with those printed on the CD cover, where just three members are credited, followed by a lengthy (and telling) list of contributing musicians. Seemingly evicted are Giles Hatton (Manchester) and John Mark Lapham (Abilene). In steps Gareth Maybury (location unknown).  However I'm reliably informed that Giles and John Mark are operating under pseudonyms... why?
While accumulating this confusing information three songs have passed me by. Their collective power I can reduce to the words, 'layered, textural soundscapes' - which I'm pretty sure I've read a thousand times - 'pastoral, ambient psych' - which I'm sure I've never read - and 'mildly diverting melodies' - which, I think, was inspired by track three, Wayward Son. Here, singer Brandon Carr (Dallas) is to the fore over a sparse yet sprightly piano and string-laden epic which also incorporates an abundance of keyboards and other 32-track studio stretching colorisations. At this stage one is willing to forgive a little indulgence. The following instrumental, Slow Man's Dream, takes the pastoral theme to new heights, with flutes aplenty. This'll be great for TV programmers come Spring of next year. 25 Easy Pieces, however, is plain horrid; a dull-as-they-come mantra that makes My Sweet Lord sound like Bohemian Rhapsody.
It's soon apparent that The Earlies (and their press dept) are equating directionless meandering and studio proficiency with greatness (a common mistake); and there's so much filler and aural masturbation here that any flashes of genuine class are either swallowed up in the maelstrom or restricted to fleeting cameos. Sure there are some moments of prettiness to be found, but Morning Wonder sounds like the intro to Aerosmith's Sweet Emotion stretched to breaking point, with another vapid mantra - "take me home," and an equally insipid "it's alright, my baby" counterpoint. Somebody please take him home and no, it's not alright.
In a more generous mood I'd call this "expansive, ambitious and challenging," but today I'm calling it "pompous, indulgent and hollow". Which should pretty much guarantee them a huge audience. Watch them soar.

Matt Dornan
July 2004

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