10 03 2011

Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense
Early & Often

8 out of 10

Sacramento four-piece resist easy classification, conjure epic noise

by Jericho Cerrona
March 10, 2011

Sacramento, California four-piece Early & Often are a tough band to effectively categorize. Genre labels are only helpful insofar as they aid listeners in finding music similar to their own preferences. But when a band seems to blend musical styles and does so on their own terms, then critique based on genre-labeling becomes increasingly tricky.

Early & Often’s latest LP Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense is fascinating in that it takes its influences and then fuses them together in a way that makes such categorization even more difficult. Vocalist Jeffrey Wright, guitarist Joe Axtell, bassist Mylan Myers, and drummer/programmer Cliff Mattis create an auditory experience that envelops the listener gradually until it becomes nearly claustrophobic. If one is inclined to tag their sound, then surely there are hints of everything from Mono, Red Sparrows, to Circa Survive here, but what sets the band apart from simply being a pastiche is the way such influences have been incorporated into a sound that is dominated by an uncompromising aesthetic. This includes no concessions towards radio-friendly singles or songs that break right out of the gate with catchy hooks. Instead, this is a brooding, slow-burning crawl of a record that requires an attentive and patient ear. Gone, for instance, is the frantically up-tempo angst of 2009 debut Golden Arms in favor of denser soundscapes that began to surface with 2010’s 3-song EP Phenomenally Yours.

Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense is the type of thing best appreciated through headphones sitting alone in an empty room. The album skillfully incorporates eruptions of shimmering guitar, cinematic keyboard flourishes, audio samples, and digitally manipulated sound effects throughout its six tracks. Frontman Jeffery Wright’s vocal style is certainly an acquired taste and may produce comparisons to Circa Survive’s Anthony Green or even to Spencer Gill from the lesser known Tides of Man, (think high-pitched and earnest). But the difference here lies in how Wright uses his voice to accompany the layered instrumentation. While both Green and Gill apply their vocal abilities in service of more melodic pop/prog oriented songs, Wright goes in a far more interesting and mature direction. By the time one hits the eight-minute mark of opener “Under The Phase”, for example, his fervent wail is nearly swallowed by Axtell’s churning wall of guitar. It’s a neat trick, as the song develops almost like something from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, beginning with a scratchy audio clip of a Christian Evangelical revival and then eventually fading into Wright’s androgynous voice. “The Feast” has a nearly three-minute recurring xylophone intro before exploding into a post-rock freak-out, complete with marching drums and reverb-heavy guitar. When Wright finally does start singing he sounds hauntingly world-weary, with lines like “Feast on your sense of urgency/ use the pen to write all your transgressions” coming across especially eerie. “False Victories” utilizes an elegant piano melody and electronic backbeat with sudden blasts of honking brass and cinematic keyboard. Cliff Mattis’ production is especially notable here; dense and full without ever sounding cluttered. There is an epic, soundtrack-style scope to the song that builds majestically, flowing nicely into what is essentially a sonic continuation in closer “No Fiction.”

While Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense is certainly a leap forward for the band, it is by no means perfect. Though the ominous and meditative tone that runs throughout the album is well handled, there is a sense of musical sameness that runs the risk of becoming repetitive. For instance, it would have been nice to hear a few more variations on the loud/soft dynamic (slow, mostly instrumental intros, languid middle section, explosive finish), but as it stands Early & Often do this kind of thing extremely well. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if they adopted a completely new sound on upcoming recordings, such is their seeming willingness to experiment. Here’s hoping that Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense becomes a release that helps the band reach an audience as broad and open-minded as the music itself.

“No Fiction” by Early & Often

To listen to Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense, click on this link and stream the full album!


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