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Here's a pleasant and relaxing combination: Earth playing "The Peacock Angels Lament" and Sir Richard Bishop, formerly of the Sun City Girls, on "Narasimha". Bishop is also co-owner of the Sublime Frequencies label along with his brother and one other person Hisham Mayet which specialises in recording and releasing discs of obscure pop and folk / traditional music from Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Putting Earth and Bishop together on one disc isn't as unusual as you might think: Earth have often included tribalist / shamanistic elements in their music (they're just a bit subtle, that's all) and in their earlier days were a very experimental band that deconstructed structural and sonic aspects of doom metal to produce something fresh and unique. Early Earth recordings were given over to long improvisational pieces that to some people didn't seem to go anywhere and just dug their own circular grooves over and over until they drove you batty or into another universe of consciousness but that was the whole point of the music and to an extent still is. Bishop and his former band likewise are also purveyors of droning improv but with different instruments such as the sitar.
On their contribution, Earth are practically reduced to a one-man band, Dylan Carlson playing on just his guitars and amplifiers. Not even his regular sparring partner Adrienne Davies features anywhere that's audible here. It's all just very restful, floating electric guitar riffing and melody-making that takes you to a dream-place where the sky is a startling bright blue hue, the hot sun's rays beat down on the white sand and their reflection hurt your eyes, and all you want to do in the heat is find some shady spot to cool off because even the seawater is too warm. Long guitar tones have a slight sparkle and are not so much rough or raw as slightly furry around the edges. A touch of reverb on them give them a ringing effect and enhance that sultry bleached-tone ambience. The guitars divide into two, one with a brighter, lighter and more sparkling sound, the other deeper and more subdued and business-like. The whole track has a very warm, soothing feel thanks to an ongoing background tone that seems almost like a group of synthesiser-generated violins. There is no attempt on Carlson's part to play an actual melody or a repeating set of riffs that would provide the track's backbone; instead he plays fragments of melody or riff pieces that are loosely connected and which can be thought of as flotsam and jetsam drifting in a soup of sound.
Richard Bishop with the help of Randall Dunn, who often turns up on albums by bands affiliated with the Southern Lord label, uses sitar, harmonium, acoustic and steel guitars, and tamburas to create a lazily drifting and crawling string piece that seems to ebb and flow in its rhythm while a acoustic guitar or other stringed instrument plucks out a fiddly melody and somewhere in the distance an electric sitar sighs and muses on matters long gone and nearly forgotten. After the halfway mark, the pace picks up, the picky melody becomes even more fiddlesome, another instrument starts its own little frenzied run-around and the tambura soon takes over the main melody. The way this track is going, with no apparent purpose, no natural rise to a climax and then a descent, it sounds very much like an excerpt of a much larger work.
Recommended for long-time fans of both Earth and Bishop / Sun City Girls who understand what the bands like to do, the unconventional approaches to composing and playing music and the musicians' willingness to play around with song structures and concepts: this split EP may not necessarily open new doors to new sound territories for both acts - Earth do sound as if Carlson is taking things easy, happy to coast along doing his own thing and not caring what others think, and though I haven't heard much of Bishop's output, his track here doesn't seem like anything out of the ordinary given his track record - but it is just perfect for winding down and letting yourself be taken on a ride to an exotic dream-world. No more and no less.