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Earth/Beak>/Sabbath Assembly (live at The Scala)

The Scala, London
12 April 2011

Sabbath Assembly is the rather surprising spin-off from noise-manglers and avant scribblers the No-Neck Blues Band. Surprising why, exactly? Not just because they show that, yes, they are actually good musicians, but that they can also play tight, Seventies-style power pop of the sort which has a solid groove at its heart and an earnestly-sharp, clear guitar raising the rooves, church-band style, as they waft in on a hefty block of incense which flames up like the herald of the light bringer himself. In this case though, singer Jex Thoth is praising Lucifer as well as JHVH and the Lord Jesus Christ through the medium of hymns penned by the very whacked-out hippy psychedelic sect The Process Church of Final Judgment. Once this rather odd factor becomes accepted, their music is strangely – and offputtingly – like going to the aforementioned not-quite-charismatic Sunday sessions down St Jude’s for a spot of genially FM-friendly apocalyptic ecumenical Satanism-cum-Episcopaleanism.

Geoff Barrow‘s band Beak> with Billy Fuller (Fuzz Against Junk) and Matt Williams (Team Brick) have obviously absorbed all the good things kosmische musik has had to offer over the last four decades (as have many others, including many of the bands which played at the Portishead-curated ATP which featured a hefty lineup from Barrow’s own Invada records). However, the songs they play tonight hint quite explicitly at – but sadly never really follow up on – the legacy of Can‘s “Mother Sky” and NEU!‘s motorik influence. Instead, songs peter out just as the grooves get going in a good, solid style. Perhaps this is one of the downsides of a relatively short support slot, so it’s to be hoped that their own headlining shows and records keep up the pace which their tantalisingly flowing tunes hint at.

But tonight is all for Earth, and what can be said about their show here that hasn’t been praised before? There’s a new band backing Dylan Carlson, and Lori Goldston‘s cello adds a weightily vibrant extra element to the distinctive, evolving Earth sound. The bulk of the set is taken from the recent [post=”earth-angels-darkness-demons-light” text=”Angels Of Darkness, Demons of Light”] album, though the fabulously moving title track from The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull is a mid-set highlight. Carlson himself seems in his element, introducing songs with an almost humble air of someone who hopes that they will be well-received – and they are, of course – delivered by the quartet with a tightly restrained, glacially countrified sensibility which is as present in the plangent guitar twang as in Carlson’s slicked-back, almost diffidently gentlemanly demeanour. This is slow-motion barnstorming, the sound of guitar, bass, cello and drums in dizzyingly slow descent and revealed microscopic ascent, a snapshot of those times where a pause before the end of any particular phrase suggests suspension in advance of total dissolution.

This is rock and country dragged into the slow lane at the pace of rested human heartbeats, perhaps because the fast lane is sometimes too much to bear. When Earth strike up those chords, these cymbal strokes, that guitar sustain, they bring out the emotions which might have been kept dormant through shame of exposure: heartfelt joy, love of the now, the simple deep pleasure of sounds made for their own sake and at their own sweet deliberate rate.

Like Codeine, Low, Rachel’s and a whole host of bands who have come and gone around and since their pivotal Earth²: Special Low-Frequency Version in 1993, Carlson and his compadres take the broad template of guitar-centric Americana, decelerate the form until its skeleton becomes the key to a universally human understanding of music. Taken at a bloodstream pace, as distinct to that of the pulse-racing speed of the disco – or the moshpit, as only those who have worshipped hard in both can perhaps appreciate the intensity involved in simply slowing down. Earth demonstrate tonight that for them value of stillness and calm appreciation is not the awkward Gothic fear of death, but instead speaks of the acceptance of entropy inherent in everything, especially those instruments which are stringed and resonant, amplified to the exclusion of anything else.

-Linus Tossio-


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