Saturday, January 13, 2007

album review: The Early Years

"Stairway to Heaven" as a prom theme never made sense. One minute you’re gently caressed by acoustic picking and dreamy vocals, the next you’re wrestled into submission by thundering drumming and high-pitched wails. How’s that supposed to work as the soundtrack for a tight-clutch and tongue-fight with that special someone (as special as someone can be when you’re 17)?

Like the Zeppelin epic, many songs on the self-titled debut album from London trio
The Early Years have two faces. The tunes don’t rock as hard, but the time changes and the soft/loud dynamic are there in abundance. The Early Years released two singles prior to their debut, yet neither A-side ("All Ones and Zeroes", "So Far Gone") gave much indication of what else would be on the album.

The booklet accompanying the disc features a two page photo of effects pedals and it’s clear these guys like twisting and shaping guitar sounds as they see fit. Besides the aforementioned singles, songs like "Simple Solution" and "High Times and Low Lives" employ effects well and without a 'look what we can do' angle. But it’s the slower songs that provide a better idea of who these guys are. Songs like "Things", "Brown Hearts" and "High Times and Low Lives" feature vocals eerily similar to David Gilmour’s on "On The Turning Away". There’s reverb washed vocals coupled with plenty of space and quiet to hear the lyrics. But don’t get lulled into thinking they’re tiptoeing around because at some point, and there’s little advance warning, the pace picks up. Are they prog? In spirit, maybe, but that’s it. Sometimes a song gets faster and louder and stays there, other times it gears up only to come crashing down and finish at a crawl, out of breath. Even the last song, "This Ain’t Happiness", as close as they come to a true "slow" song, builds in intensity and threatens to break loose but never does.

The album’s one flaw occurs in the middle. Track five, "Song for Elizabeth", dissolves from slow burner into spastic instrumental after 3+ minutes, leaving nearly six minutes of hovering vocals and instrument noodling. It’s followed by "Musik Der Fruhen Jaire" (is that German for 'Hit The Skip Button?') - an instrumental that stretches five minutes. With different sequencing, each might be more bearable, but taken together, it’s too much and for some, might derail the album. For me, it’s a minor flaw and I give The Early Years credit for being ambitious with the songs and their structures, but I wonder if things will continue to work if they follow the path they’re on. This album is wide open, busy and unpredictable, but an easy and enjoyable listen. I’m anxious to hear what’s next from them, but I worry they might not be able to again accomplish what they've done here. Many songs by other bands have aspired to the heights of "Stairway to Heaven," only to end up in the basement with "American Pie". Still, based solely on this first full-length effort, The Early Years bear watching and the debut album is worth getting. (John Byrne)

The Early Years' debut album is released in the US on 20 January with 4 bonus tracks not on the European version. They will be playing 3 shows in the NYC area to promote the release:

Mercury Lounge, Manhattan
Union Hall, Brooklyn
Union Pool, Brooklyn

The Early Years on MySpace

The Early Years - "All Ones And Zeros" mp3 buy

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