I love America.
I can’t help it, I am fascinated by this whole continent of a country. I was raised in the 90’s, head full of images of the Great Apple’s effervescence, the Great West’s majesty, and everything that stands in between. Fantasizing about infinite slow drives, with no other companion than an old Plymy and its radio. Freedom, as they say.
I love Americans. I love their open and wholehearted character, I love how they can welcome you as a friend in a matter of minutes, even if it means they will move on just as promptly. I love the American people for all their brightness and warmth, despite all their internal struggles.
I haven’t been there in a while though. To compensate for my yearning for America in these troubled times, I’d like to tell you about an entity who, like me, grew up around the 90’s. An entity that represents all my feelings and hopes, all the truths and pipe dreams I associate with America : Earth.
Earth has a peculiar place in the history of rock music. The band’s name is indissociable from Dylan Carlson, its founder and leader since 1989, and from these ideas of long, wide, saturated guitar sounds coined as Drone Metal. While Carlson has been quite rightly assigned paternity over this chapel, he is not one to hold on to labels and formalities ; the man is more one to refine a lifelong work ethos at the service of a moving, shape-shifting continuum of influences. And Dylan Carlson’s influences are no less than America itself.
Pentastar : In the Style of Demons has all traits of a US rock classic, but it probably surprised Earth’s niche audience by the time it came out, in 1996. Those in search for over-saturated drones will not find them here, for Pentastar strives for more simplicity. Reflecting its iconic cover art, it offers the perspective of an actual getaway ; a road trip, rather than an acid trip.
Introduction speaks for itself ; starting that old V8 with a laid back riff, eyes opening wide, and off we go towards the straight flat horizon. Dylan’s riffs are simple, compelling and memorable. Strong enough so they are worth repeating, looped over in sensual mantras like High Command or Tallahassee ; a calm musical power oscillating in your head, across your hips, around your fingers tapping on the driving wheel. And yet, Pentastar is hardly only a flat drive across the desert, cradled by 70s rock worship. The journey is filled with mystique, riffs and body woven with swirls of light and wandering thoughts.
Crooked Axis for String Quartet, the only qualified “Drone” song of the album, is a night ride with vision shifting down in favour of a semi-conscious awareness ; one of those rides where you have to be more alert to sounds and peripheral signals than to the darkness unfolding before you. A little bit further down the road, Charlotteer (Temple Song) marks a halt between Carlson’s fiery riffs. One step taken out of the car, paying respects to a sacred land, an unbuilt shrine that was here long before the age of men.
The engine confidently roars once again through a brilliant, sensual cover of Hendrix’s Peace in Mississipi with all the crazy bits one could expect from the great wizard himself, proving Carlson’s guitar mastery. Freaking solos in an Earth song, in 1996 ! The irresistible vibe of fuzz and dust feels like it could go on and on and…
We’re not on the road any more. The road is gone.
The ground is gone.
In a weird way we’re still in the car, but somewhere else. Suspended in time, floating in the inconstant space between the notes of Sonar and Depth Charge. A sensory pause playing on the echoes, on the vibrations of ambient silence, on what is implied and left unsaid. This is one of Earth’s songs glaring of the influences of US minimalists like Terry Riley or La Monte Young.
Coda Maestoso in F (flat) Minor closes the loop, repeating and expanding Introduction’s riff, but with more breadth, more confidence and openness. Echoed strings, hammond organ and a slow, bluesy guitar solo build up the ultimate cyclical statement to this initiatory journey of an album. Compact despite the slow riffs, and cohesive despite the great variety it has to offer.
Pentastar is a transition album, the bridge between the primordial Drone-ridden Earth and what the band’s sound would become years later : open structures, wide and generous riffs and a minimalistic ethos. The journey has transcended the listener, enlightened by the immanent spirit of America, just as this album transcended the sonic identity of Earth.
Dylan Carlson however, did not get to move on as smoothly by the time Pentastar came out. By the mid 90s to early 2000s he would go through trials and hardships no one should ever have to experience. Fortunately for him, and consequently for all of us, he would eventually go on with his journey in life and music… In chapters we shall read soon.