Earthman: All Vocals, Guitar, MIDIs, Programmed Percussion
Molly Hill: Keyboards
Liam McCarty: Drums, Percussion
Joseph Schreiber Poznik: Electronic Percussion
Christian Rasmussen: Guitar, Bass Guitar, Bass Synth
Art by Ryan Cain
Photographed and Edited by Kate Nikles
Typography by Thomas Thurlow with assistance from Peter Thurlow
"Wild Is The Wind" music and lyrics by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington
All other music, lyrics, mixing and production by Earthman
Released May 25, 2017
When was the last time that you heard a piece of music that upended you? I mean--truly upended you?
Now..."upended" could mean a variety of things. Certainly, it could have been a piece of music that joyously, remarkably, spectacularly opened up your horizons, beautifully guiding you into a larger musical world that you may have previously not had thought possible or ever knew existed. I have had many of those moments within my life. But those moments are not quite what I am thinking of at this time. By "upended," I am talking about the type of music that challenges you, provokes you, perhaps even troubles, disturbs or maybe even frightens you as what you are hearing fully alters your perceptions about what music could possibly be, what it could and should sound like, how the notes in the music, the choice of words in the lyrics, the quality of the performances and production are combined and congealed in such a way where emotions are stirred and sometimes even birthed not existence, emotions that you have no rhyme or reason in defining. In essence you are untethered, lost in a foreign musical world and the effect could be unnerving to say the least.
For me, as a child I can remember songs by my beloved Beatles that seemed to just rub me in the wrong way. Songs like "Strawberry Fields Forever," for instance, where some of the notes, the sound of John Lennon's voice and the disturbed dreamlike sound of George Martin's production just sounded...wrong. Or perhaps a track like "Helter Skelter," one where I loved its raw, rock and roll energy, but I did find myself racing to the record player to move the needle before Ringo Starr howled his bloodcurdling scream, "I'VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!!!!!!" And do not let me started on the indescribable sound collage that is "Revolution #9." Of course, now I treasure all of those songs and sounds more than I could ever tell you. But back in my childhood, those were sounds I may have not been quite ready for...but if I was never exposed, how could I ever be ready?
Beyond The Beatles, I think of full albums like Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" (released October 12, 1979), an album so far away sonically from their previous album, the iconic classic that is "Rumours" (released February 4, 1977), that I just hated it and it took me nearly 20 years before I could appreciate and love it for the ahead-of-its-time masterpiece that it truly is. And then, there's Pink Floyd's "The Wall" (released November 30, 1979) and even Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral" (released March 8, 1994), two releases that completely terrified me, making me wonder if I was listening to something that may have been evil. And then, there's The Cure's "The Head On The Door" (released August 26, 1985)...that one gave me nightmares.
In all of those situations and passages during my musical development, I was upended. Completely, powerfully upended. I guess I felt like that image in Director Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" (2013), where Sandra Bullock is spiraling end over end into the vast, unforgiving blackness and bleakness of interstellar space. I was untethered, unable to find my bearings when I heard all of that music and it took some serious work to fully learn, understand, appreciate and in most cases love all of them (except that one Cure album--I just can't get into that one). I was the quintessential stranger in a strange land as far as my musical learnings were concerned, and being in a place so foreign can be initially terrifying sometimes.
I bring all of this up to you because I wanted to share with you a new 2017 release, as well as one from a local artist to Madison, WI, that has indeed upended me. Seriously, unquestionably upended me.
The artist is named Earthman, the alter ego of musician/songwriter/singer Thomas Thurlow, and just a couple of short months ago, the fruits of his intensely labored over musical endeavors were finally released to the world in the form of a debut EP entitled "Fire Night." Containing only 4 songs and running a mere 24 minutes in length, Earthman has delivered a deceptively small package that once opened reveals a dark doorway into uncharted territory for my ears. It is a work that confused me and yes, it did even frighten me...to the point where I am unable to listen to the EP at night, due to completely irrational and obviously childlike fears of what might be unearthed should the sounds of the music make contact with the shadows on the wall and in the witching hour.
No, Earthman has not delivered a pseudo horror EP. But it is indeed one where when I was finished with that first full listen, the sounds of the subsequent silence were essentially all I could find myself able to handle as I needed to process about what the hell I had just experienced. How does one even begin to describe music that feels so indescribable? Well, I am going to try...and perhaps this will inspire you to take a deep dive into the unknown.
1. "Vampire"-"Fire Night" opens with a 7 minute plus suite in what feels to be 3 parts that begins in familiar territory but soon drops the floor out from underneath you. Enveloped by an insistently percolating electronic beat augmented with some sinister slide guitar, the pulse of "Vampires" simultaneously feels as if you are hunting something or someone while also eliciting a feeling of being caught and therefore trapped. Once Earthman sets the lyrical stage with his turbulent vocals, ("Please could you kill it," he pleads. "I can't look at it anymore.") the song already begins to feel like the walls are closing in.
After the surprising shifts in perspective from hunted to the titular presence ("don't you know it's you they're staring at"), a most ominous warning ("120 minutes from now we'll all know how it went down"), and rhythmic chants of "Oooooh blood sucker," the song abruptly transforms into a brief passage that would not sound out of place upon a Tangerine Dream album.
From here, we enter a disturbingly ethereal section presented via Earthman's striking falsetto and a downright groovy drum beat yet provides us with a landscape complete with ghost bike riders, baby tooth dealers all populating a domain where the day never comes and the repeated refrain (presented both forwards and backwards) "nightmares are all you get."
Through the looking glass indeed...and there's no way back.
2. "Flesh"-Glacial synthesizers and a pensive, lonely piano sets the stage for the EP's second selection, a slinky, spooky ballad where Earthman eerily evokes the spirit of The Cure's mastermind Robert Smith.
"I dreamt your heart for fourteen nights
Still I know something isn't right
So give me an honest reaction tonight
Don’t give me an honest reaction tonight
or be the one thats from my dreams
Don’t tell me it quietly
Come on baby lie to me
I don't want to understand you tonight...
...But I saw you
kissing with your eyes open
but you saw me
kissing with my eyes open
nothings ever good enough ..."
Again, as I listened to this track, I felt as if I had my bearings (albeit they were shaken up by the unsettling terror of "Vampire") as the woozy synthetics and minimalist electronic beats carried a certain familiarity but even so, it was how everything was combined that wove underneath my skin uneasily...especially in the song's final minute, which sounds like being propelled backwards underwater and into the maw of something unspeakable.
3. "Tidal Pools"-The third opens in place that feels to be entirely submerged. Earthman's vocals sounds nearly buried underneath the waves of sound yet they valiantly attempt to find some sense of escape, as aided by a lonely Bass Guitar which sounds as if it is scouring for a groove to lock into. And then, we find ourselves again traveling another vortex of backwards sonics, distorted vocals and a wall of dangerously eerie effects that leave you with truly nothing to hold onto.
4. "Wild Is The Wind"-On this nearly seven and a half minute final track, Earthman engages his inner David Bowie as he boldly, bravely tackles the song the icon covered upon his own "Station To Station" (released January 23, 1976) and also with a dash of Bowie's "'Heroes'" thrown in for extra effect.
What we have with the Earthman version remains a torch song albeit one that sounds as if it has been explicitly pulled apart and pasted back together and sounds as if it is being performed in a bombed out European cafe of the mind. A piano tinkles and then fades. A Bass Guitar creeps along. Dissonant sounds ebb and flow. The full band picks up a pseudo bossa nova beat midway and barely keeps it stitched together. And through it all, Earthman's voice croons, whispers, pleads, aches, rises, falls, shrieks, screams and howls like a wounded Banshee until song's end, when there simply is no more.
On this first listen, Earthman's "Fire Night" felt to be a deep impenetrable dive into an aural nightmare world where music and even sound itself became elements that were just too frightening and dark to grasp fully. Like a fading dream, whether good or bad, these four songs presented soundscapes where the moment that you could feel as if you could latch onto a certain sound, tonality, melody, instrumentation or vocal, it would rapidly disappear leaving a fearsome new element in its place.
I am unable to stress to you enough how displaced I felt while listening to the EP as it was truly an amalgamation of the intentional, experimental, familiar and the vastly arcane all formulated into something I just could not recognize and again, it was a work that upended me. Imagine being in a deep pool of water with nothing to reach for. That is what "Fire Night" felt like.
With all of that being said, I would not be surprised if some to even many of you would be remarking to yourselves that based upon those written words, this just may not be the music you would wish to seek out. But, to that, I urge you to keep reading because I believe that for all of the uneasiness and occasional cacophony, Thomas Thurlow as Earthman quite possibly has tapped into something extremely powerful.
Returning to earlier in this posting where I mentioned the songs and albums that once frightened me that I now adore, I now ask of you to think of the songs, albums and artists that perhaps gave you the exact same feelings when you first heard or even saw them. Did you embrace David Bowie, for instance, when he first arrived onto the scene or when he further exploded into his Ziggy Stardust phase and all of his transformations afterwards--none of which were remotely "warm," so to speak?
In essence, I am speaking to the overall nature of art itself and its purpose to inspire and to even provoke as it is not the job of art to necessarily be comfortable. Art is designed to challenge, to force you to view the life experience through a completely different lens--essentially to shake and rattle the cages of your respective comfort zones. Of course, some things you will just not respond to, but when you do respond, the windows of your life have just been extended wider.
Regarding music, I have often lamented alongside Steve Manley, owner of Madison, WI's B-Side Records, that despite the great music that continues to be made every day, the innovation, the spark and energy that felt to be so prevalent during the '50's-'90's, and so euphorically throughout the '60's and '70's, where artists seemed to be re-inventing the musical wheel over and over again, just may have evaporated. Or better yet, the monolithic music business is such where someone who just might be re-inventing that musical wheel RIGHT NOW would never be heard.
I have no idea whatsoever if Thomas Thurlow is indeed that artist who has re-invented the wheel of music. But, I can say, and with absolutely no disrespect intended for my beloved Madison, WI bands including Post Social, Dash Hounds, Trophy Dad and others, Thurlow's Earthman has crafted a sound that is entirely unlike anything else that I have heard yet and it strongly feels to exist within its own universe.
In the real world, I have met Thomas Thurlow in person once and I have corresponded with him on-line here and there since. In all of our conversations, he has proven himself to be more then genuine and certainly, very excited about the musical possibilities at hand for himself and for the Madison music community. I also know that he is a careful and equally genuine artist as he spent over a year of his life crafting the four songs that make up "Fire Night," and to hear the EP, the time spent shows dramatically.
"Fire Night" is a meticulously arranged work that houses a production that is nothing less than crystalline and defiantly showcases that not even one sound is out of place. To my ears, Thurlow clearly knows what he is doing yet in our correspondence, he has questioned himself. He has expressed to me that he does indeed realize the difference between himself and his contemporaries and therefore, he has housed some bouts with his self-confidence as the "wrongness" of his material compared with others truly sets him apart.
That being said, I again feel that Thurlow is onto something, for he has allowed his creative spirit to guide him all the way through the writing, performing, recording and release of "Fire Night" to a fearless degree. Within that artistic inspiration and invention at hand and in my mind, I have since returned to his EP several times as I have made attempts to meet him where he is artistically and to try and find my way afterwards. While the effect of the EP remains tremendously unsettling, I am now wondering if what he has concocted is not really something sinister but in actuality, something .
innocent and therefore, more universal than it seems. And if only we gave it an honest chance, we could possibly discover that we, artist and listener, may have much tremendously in common.
Instead of being a soundtrack to a mental horrorshow, what if "Fire Night" is actually the sonic journey of a fragile, sensitive soul enduring some emotional upheaval, where we are gathering a front row seat to an individual caught in the throes of their most unhinged, untethered and upended state? What if the EP is the sound of a broken heart and broken spirit lost in an extremely cold, cruel world? Instead of creating songs that can describe what certain emotions necessarily feel like, Earthman has delved further and deeper by capturing what certain emotional states might actually sound like!!
Try to think of times in which we have all faced some personal upheaval or tragedy and how our perceptions and outlook of the world around us are all transformed. What once seemed "normal," is not. Adjusting to a new "normal" can be daunting to the point of paralysis. The loss of a love, be it family, friend or lover, redefines devastation and maybe "Fire Night" is that sound of individual emotional and psychological desolation, in all of its unease, turbulence, presence of demons and encroaching darkness. And in some bizarre way, Earthman has harnessed something that should be impossible to capture.
Earthman's "Fire Night" is...well, even after all of these words, I am still not sure about what it is or could be or even quite precisely what I feel about it and truthfully, that is a good thing! Thomas Thurlow, through his intense creativity, has produced a work of art that has made feel uncomfortable to the degree that I have been challenged to re-think what music can actually be and if that is not something worth celebrating and promoting, then I do not know what is.
Trust me, dear readers and listeners, for I would not steer you wrong. I understand that for some, this may not be your cup of tea but I am gently urging you to head to the Earthman Bandcamp page to, at the very least, try out this music which certainly serves to be a forcefully thrown brick through the windows of our homogenized, plasticized, and rampantly uninspired musical landscape of 2017.
I know that I will undoubtedly be returning to Earthman's musical world very soon...but I still think that I can only do it during the light of day.