Jacob Long - a man also known as Earthen Sea and someone who looks like Warren Ellis if he’d started out on synths instead of fiddles - returns to Kranky with new LP Grass And Trees. Long states that his aim with these compositions was to simplify and declutter his practice, and that sense of order really benefits this record. The tracks of Grass And Trees pull back from dub techno until only the ambiences remain, kind of like early Nicolas Jaar with even fewer beats.
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Earthen Sea’s latest album from the venerable Kranky ends with a hand clap. It’s trying its best to hit each exact beat, but it’s just about failing. It sounds like anyone clapping would. Sometimes preempting the beat, sometimes missing it. If this person was clapping in front of J.K. Simmons’ character in the movie Whiplash they’d probably end up having a chair thrown at them. Very happily, I am not J.K. Simmons character in the movie Whiplash. For me, the clapping feels painfully intimate, and painfully stark. The proceeding track (and indeed the whole album) is a kind of lush ambient dub techno, eschewing a kick drum for the hand claps. And though it’s relatively stripped back even for the genre, ‘Less and Less’ is something else. Dub techno rarely sounds this vulnerable. But that absence of quantised beats does just that. Especially when the clap is all that's left.
The rest of the album is beautiful and patient. Many of the tracks do feature a drum kick, and though they’re good, it’s the more ambient ones that stand out. I’m particularly fond of ‘Spatial Ambiguity’ which gently emerged to reveal very sparse reverbed drumming and what sounds like humming. The effect is like being half asleep while the radio’s on in the background. Each little sound becomes this echo-y ghost of itself. It gives the album a much more organic feel than the usual metallic sheen of the genre. The feel of the oceans and the wind, the Grass and Trees.
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