Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

The Earthling Society - Albion

The Earthling Society

AOTM #63, August 2005ce
Released 2005 on Mylodon Records
Side One
  1. Black Witch (7.09)
  2. Heart of Glass (4.18)
  3. Albion (5.24)
  4. Outsideoftime (6.37)
Side Two
  1. Beltane Queen (5.22)
  2. When It All Comes Down (5.07)
  3. Universal Mainline (14.07)

Note 1: In the great race to secure the most comfortable front row Parker Knoll jetliner recliner seats on Death’s Own Juggernaut currently idling ominously at the Grim Reaper’s terminal (and across several platforms simultaneously) waiting to take those most recently deceased heads down into the afterlife, several of our most pragmatic (and most super-confident) 21st century rock’n’roll artists have ditched forever all notions of originality in favour of adopting that Cultural Kleptomania style employed so successfully by T.S. Eliot in his legendary epic poem THE WASTELAND, in which all and everything in the public domain (from children’s playground poems to soldiers’ marching songs) were considered to be a useful enough part of the great cultural reservoir that they were in themselves worthy of being appropriated wholesale ‘as is’ without even minor tinkering on the artist’s part. Early rock’n’rollers – coming from a ‘tin pan alley’ background of popular entertainment – were hesitant to use this approach for fear of appearing too crass, too inauthentic and, therefore, too ersatz to be worthy of consideration by the so-called intelligensia. But when in the mid ‘60s such giants as Stockhausen had balls enough to commandeer whole segments of previously recorded national anthems for his astounding and startling work HYMNEN; and Mellotron keyboards began to contain entire violin sections courtesy of co-owner Eric Robinson’s Radio Light Orchestra and trombone solos by bug-eyed British jazzer George Chisholm, the aforementioned neurotic rock’n’rollers’ fears of appearing inauthentic simply because your rain sounds had come directly from a BBC sound FX record diminished considerably. And so, brothers and sisters, Joe Meek inherited the earth. Descending through the subsequent decades, these methods of cultural appropriation all eventually filtered down - via sampling, synclaviers and Stars-on-Forty Five - into Lois Common-Denominator’s Pantheon of Popular Music, until the present time when you can simply sing your song over one of Sting’s and have a nice Top Ten hit with your own name on it. But what be the implications for the real heads? And are handy off-the-shelf one-size-fits-all psychedelic constructor sets useful for enlightenment when placed in the right hands? Well, I’ll tell y’all…

Note 2: This review celebrates the vinyl version of ALBION, which will be released to the public later this August on the Vinyl Japan label. However, the version which you hear currently on our audio is that available through our Merchandiser, released on Chile’s Mylodon Records.

For Those Who Have a Problem With ‘World Music’ We Salute You

Earthling Society is a 21st century guitar/bass/drums trio from Blackpool, in the north-west of England, that multi-tracks itself in such a manner that its debut album ALBION comes on more like your typical Krautrock commune ensemble (Amon Duul 2, Agitation Free especially) than the Blue Cheer, Grand Funk and High Rise heart attack than the power trio line-up would suggest. Indeed, concerning this Earthling Society, imagine even a ‘60s San Francisco septet/octet (50 Foot Hose or the second album augmented Chocolate Watchband comes most immediately to mind), the kind in which at least half the members are fiddling with unidentifiable Buchla-type analogue synthesizers and weird Harry Partch percussion, whilst (sure enough) the other half have their eyes closed and are deluding themselves that it’s all the natural successor to the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Earthling Society is, in other words, pretty damn cool.

Guitarist Fred Laird controls the proceedings with a beautifully distinctive and highly mournful northern lead vocal style reminiscent of Jim Milne from Tractor and Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull. His highly English lyrical muse is somewhat akin to William Blake, though refracted through the cracked windscreen of a Commer Dormobile laid waste by police during the Battle of the Beanfield. In his songs, Laird calls himself a “self-loathing motherfucking bore” for worrying that the role he “must play is just slipping away”. But the spectre of England’s landscape Goddess is so powerful in Laird’s lyrics that he seems always destined to be gloriously redeemed as “she comes to free me from shackles and irons of despair”. Moreover, Fred Laird’s willingness to cast himself in his own songs in his real-life role of father and husband suggests this is one confident motherfucker, especially as the music is so timelessly edge-y. Accompanied by Jon Blacow’s dubby and stickily implosive drums, and all melded together by either a bass guitar or bass synth from the be-shaded longhair David Fyall, Earthling Society makes what must - by this part of the early 21st century - be described as ‘traditional’ underground music shot through with a genuinely psilocybin novelty made by peaceniks of the ecstatic refusenik variety. Like Comets on Fire, Six Organs of Admittance, Primordial Undermind at their best, and anything involving Plastic Crimewave, Earthling Society’s success is because of the confidence with which its musicians deal in several time-honoured rock clichés simultaneously. But, like some psychedelicized bureau de change, the music of Earthling Society always keeps the lira separate from the francs and yen, and in so doing keeps a sharp edge to every riff and tune and rhythm, rather than mixing up all the small change into that dreaded catch-all known as World Music. Think of Earthling Society as a more obvious and de-tuned version of Traffic’s “40,000 Headmen”, Amon Duul 2’s “Sandoz in the Rain”, most anything from Brainticket’s PSYCHONAUT or big ensemble pieces from The Chocolate Watchband’s THE INNER MYSTIQUE. Think even of bits of The Red Crayola’s marvelously disorientating PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND, and yooz almost there. Indeed, Earthling Society have on ALBION created a muscular summum bonum of all things mysterious without resorting to spewing out cod-Hindi mantras or the sub-sub-Hawkwindisms of most festival bands.

Ah, but there’s the rub… for this Earthling Society’s trio designation is nobbut a cunning smokescreen. The term ‘trio’ in rock’n’roll always implies power trio, and this lot are nothing of the sort1. Y’see, the basic recordings having been achieved, Messrs Laird, Fyall and Blackow then each layer on more tracks of percussion and disembodied voices, with Laird adding a final paste of piano and occasional flourishes of truly delightful Colin Goldring-style recorder that easily passes for flute. And so it is that the overall FX of these multiple overdubs are most reminiscent of those euphoric results created by the aforementioned Jim Milne’s Tractor duo (recorded in the early 1970s for John Peel’s Dandelion label: see Album of the Month November 2004CE); that or maybe an even more sweaty and cardiovascular (and equally Anglo-Viking) This Heat. Indeed, ALBION sounds like all my favourite music without the kack bits that annoy me. And it’s current, too. And I dig it especially because it’s psychedelic rather than just psychedelically styled2, that is: it’s disorientating and mind manifestingly fertile and it constantly sends listeners outside of time to dwell on the edge of their minds. You try to grasp a hold of it but you can’t because it never stays in the same place long enough. Like Dennis Bovell’s perpetually rolling mix on The Pop Group’s first album Y, ALBION is always on the edge of becoming…

My Children, My Woman, My Faith

Judging ALBION on a song-by-song basis is somewhat inappropriate, as it all segues together to create a cohesive whole. However, for those who are reading this review long after the audio streaming has been taken down, I feel it’s important to at least attempt an itemized description of the tunes contained herein.

The record commences with the headlong hollow-drummed percussion rush of “Black Witch”, a riot of Pete De Freitas drums if that brother were playing The Electric Prunes’ massive “Hideaway”. Chordless guitar notes burn and shatter as the sparks fly upwards, a musical key coagulates out of the ether and Fred Laird sings disembodied lyrics through what appears to be a ring modulated harmonium like that Cher song that robotized her. Here, however, it sounds like Laird’s smitten with the same dark lady that Uli John Roth had issues with, and she’s a Freya Doll up for friggin’ in the rigging:

“I got a witch, she won’t keep still,
A marionette on a freakshow bill,
But she can ride like no girl will…”

Guide me to her, brother; I gots to meet this enchantress. Then what sounds like a Hitlerian night rally leads us into the superb GET CARTER-esque themes of “Heart of Glass”. Formerly entitled “Uran Krystall”, more disembodied voices inform this so-called instrumental, which hangs in the air and threatens to ascend but never truly ignites. Onwards to the superb title track, whose gloriously drunken 6/8 clatterbeats and seemingly ever-descending chords evoke the Wodenist soul of Northern England like no-one else does, spunking cosmic cum across the canopy of the earth. Imagine those brief blissful moments of High Tide when Tony Hill’s transcendental guitar and Dreaken Theaker’s intoxicated splatter drums collide, and you’re somewhere close to the timeless beauty of this song. Side One closes with the near seven-minute Krautrock/W. Coast-styled groove instrumental “Outsideofintime”, whose hothouse gardens atmosphere could be another quarter of an hour in length for my tastes. But this first side of music is really one seamless bliss-out, whose song titles are no more useful than signposts along the North Walean section of the Watling Street.

The acoustic “Beltane Queen” that opens side two again conjures that same disembodied folk music that the Tractor duo did so well. Imagine the most bucolic parts of Traffic’s JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE as played by the Syd Barrett Floyd at its most blissed out – a place where the ska-styled ‘ch-ch’ vocal rhythms equal billing with the drums and bass a la Roxy Music’s “The Bogus Man”. Starting with an off-the-shelf downpour, “When It All Comes Down” is an atonal Kraut-skank that hinges on the time-honoured rock’n’roll lyrical call to arms “Can You Feel it?” Funky and un-finished sounding, this skeletal groove threatens to come to pieces at any time, and is all the more charming for it, especially as most of the instrumental parts are only implied and, even then, undermined by off kilter sound FX. ALBION concludes with a delightful 14-minutes long groove piece entitled “Universal Mainline”, another of Earthling Society’s skeletal and hugely understated themes that begins as a bizarre hybrid of English finger-in-the-ear folk music and short wave transistor music concrete, before developing into a magnificently loping and dyslexic anthem, again something like early Roxy Music at their most Krautrock informed. Herein is Earthling’s greatest strength, for when they bring the bass and drums way to the fore, all those elements that would normally play the pivotal role become implied or hidden on the near horizon, propelled emotionally by the band’s clever use of pretty but unreachable voices that we know (but only from the supplied lyric sheet) are singing:

“Ride the universal mainline,
Ride the universal mainline,
Ride the universal mainline,
Ride the universal mainline.”

And so this album reaches its most beautiful moments on that long closing fade, sounding like several oft-heard yet still ungraspable sounds from the psychedelic past, played all at once. And so it would seem, especially in this early 21st century, that truly psychedelic music can still succeed by dealing in certain overt clichés, so long as their context is appropriate (or, more likely, inappropriate). I suppose this is because subverting the cliché, can only work after the artist has first accepted the cliché, which is after all the unit of currency that the human mind mostly deals in. And if Earthling Society gets itself on a roll, we could be in for a series of low-key underground classics from them… Blackpool Illumination? Bring it on!!!

  1. When I rack my mind in search of the ultimate opposite of the power trio, I think of Zounds’ incredibly well-arranged refusenik 7" anthem "Can’t Cheat Karma" (“One Two Three Go, I’ve got an ego, It won’t let me go, What’mah gonna do?”) and the caffeinated tense but sonically weak-as-shit tinnitus defiance that Chain Gang laid on us via the Kapitalist label for their "Son of Sam" 45. Otherwise, I’m reminded of The Red Crayola’s gormless first recording of "Pink Stainless Tail", the version that made it on to Lelan Rogers’ EPITAPH FOR A LEGEND double-LP International Artists retrospective. But if you listen to Red Crayola’s PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND LP, that same song appears surrounded, nay cushioned, by a kind of rolling pop-art music concrete credited to the so-called ‘Familiar Ugly’, said to have been a friends-of-the-band percussion and enthusiasm group of Texan freaks akin to Hapshash and Amon Duul 1. However, despite his miniscule credit right down there at the bottom of the record sleeve, the real creator of this music was sound engineer Walt Andrus, whose role was downplayed to the point of extinction. In reality, Andrus had created the music of the so-called Familiar Ugly months before the Red Crayola LP was even recorded. Furthermore, he had touted it round Houston and Austin searching in vain for a release before seeing it reduced to a series of convenient Elastoplast doorways with which to seal together Mayo Thompson & Co’s charming minimalist ineptitude.
  2. Psychedelically styled music makes me sick because it’s anything but psychedelic and if I hear one more fairground organ I’ll kill the musician. Or sitars… shit Psychedelically-styled music is 21st century Macca on the front cover of Radio Times, smiling under the heading "Now I’m 64". It has nothing to do with real psychedelic experience and everything to do with the post-2012 Conservative Party.