I suppose it’s pretty inevitable that, in my last few weeks as a resident of the Greater Manchester metropolis, I should finally find one of the most charming non-commercial venues I could have possibly imagined. Islington Mill is, as its name might suggest, an old mill building repurposed – or in the process of being repurposed, at least – as a hip outsider arts venue. It has that shabby chic that you find in urbex photography forums and memories of late-nineties squat parties, though it’s a legit establishment with a proper bar and PA and everything. The downside is that it’s quite near the centre of Salford, which is rougher than a sharkskin mankini, but that should keep it from getting too trendy, I guess (always assuming that a venue hosting obscure drone-rock acts to audiences of bearded hipsters on a Saturday night can be considered untrendy to start with, of course). Anyway, long story short: it’s a cool venue, and you should go see something there.
You’ve missed the chance to see Earth play there, of course… and what a mistake that was. Despite being the sort of band whose work is probably best appreciated while sat down comforatble (not to mention under the influence of some fresh Dutch parsley), swaying and nodding shoulder to shoulder among the afore-mentioned bearded hipsters (with a restorative beer or three thrown in, naturellement) is still quite the experience. But if you judge a show by the fury of its circle-pits or frantic on-stage flailing of limbs and haircuts, well, Earth probably aren’t the band for you.
The signs are there to see from the outset: the support slot consists of around twenty minutes of haunting freeform solo cello from Earth‘s own Lori Goldston, who should almost certainly get in touch with Lustmord for the express purpose of adding some analogue texture to his next platter. No tunes here, and very few riffs (assuming we define a riff as a repeated figure or motif); more than anything, Goldston’s output reminded me of free jazz, only far less frenetic. That’s a lazy comparison, I’ll grant you, but it’s pretty much all I’ve got; if other people are making music like this, I’d very much like to hear more of it. A cello running through a Fender Twin has an amazing tone, its rich rough bass textured like the old wood of a well-worn pierhead… and Goldston has a vibrato technique that should make most guitarists seethe with jealousy.
There’s no changeover ceremony, no transition; the remaining three members of Earth just wander out, plug in and start playing along, coaxing a soporific order from the deceptive chaos. Cello, bass, drums, Telecaster, a few stompboxen and other gizmos, everything running at a BPM most commonly associated with the hearts of hibernating bears; here there are riffs, but they’re stretched out like bubblegum summers, the loops so long it can take you a full minute to get the shape of them before they mutate (or is it evolve?) into something slightly different. In a musical niche better known for the worship of noise and fury, Earth‘s considered and patient songcraft is like a breeze blowing in from the prairie.
Their moniker seems even more appropriate now that the line-up is 75% female, too; is the Earth not the mother of us all? Do her patient seasons not turn us through inexorable quadrants of space, the houses of the zodiac slipping by like thick dark treacle spackled with winking eyes of light, which are themselves but other suns? Sure they do! And you get lost in Earth‘s tunes like you get lost in the long turn of the year, the seasonal changes sneaking up on you while you deal with the small change of days and weeks, of notes and bars. There’s a warmth to it, too, a slow heat like you’re laid out on the concrete sunlounger of some J G Ballard short story (one of the grim nuclear paranoia ones), woozy and lethargic from an increasing intake of painkillers as the end-times approach and the sun swells up to swallow us all, welcoming the inescapable end with open arms… if not with open eyelids. Earth play Mogadon blues for a red giant sun, stoner blues-rawk with all the sweat, speed and machismo baked out of it over long hours loafing on some dusty spaghetti Western set.
It’s a beautiful thing to burn slowly.