The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull
posted on 2/2008 By:
My guess is that Dylan Carlson's got some pretty thick skin. The man's spent nearly two decades dedicating his time to a form of music that's just not very well received by a large portion of music fans on this planet. It ain't no joke, folks, drone is a tough pill to swallow, and I'd be willing to bet an ear that Carlson doesn't exactly spend his evenings soaking in treasure baths from record sales since Earth's inception in 1990. But then we've also seen quite a number of alluring artists flutter through our lives who've chosen to shun all that's trendy in favor of remaining true to some sort of peculiar artistic vision, no matter how seemingly unpalatable that vision might be. The funny thing is, it's exactly those peculiar pioneers who very often end up creating trends because of their blazing dedication to their unique art. Such is the case with Carlson's Earth, whose seminal early works, whether you like them or not, effectively cut a path for nearly every drone project currently on the planet.
Ahhh, but the truly exemplary artist is the one who continues to trailblaze by further developing their vision and pushing the invention forward, right? Which, of course, has the distinct possibility of throwing old fans off the train just as quickly as new fans hop aboard. 2005's sterling Hex found Carlson and Co. pushing the contraption forward by shoveling a fat measure of The Dusty Ol' West into the engines, but the record still had a firm enough foot stomped in drone to keep many long-time fans happy as well. The subsequent release, 2007's Hibernaculum, continued the course by sifting some of the project's older tunes through a similar Old West filter, also with positive results. Now, with the oddly titled The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull, fans of Earth are once again exposed to the next moderately minor step in the advancement -- less focus on drone, more focus on variation and traditional song structure.
Now, before you go lookin' to hear seven new cuts of traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus, let me just slip the messy-drunk Uncle into your party right here and now. If you thought Earth was boring last year, you'll likely still be left scratching your head in '08. The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull still creeps like molasses down a cactus stalk, but there's a subtle shift towards more variation this time around; and more instruments play off one another more often than that which was found on Hex. Keys definitely play a heavier role here, as every song features either organ backdrops or ebony/ivory tinkling following the prints laid down by Carlson's Western-soaked, string bending guitar work. They even break out and stretch their legs a bit during the beginning of "Engine of Ruin", and full-on solo deep into the warm'n'fuzzy, sloooow jazz of "Hung From The Moon".
And speaking of warm'n'fuzzy, this record has an easier/breezier feel compared to Hex. There's still a fair amount of darkness to contend with, but Bees flashes a newfound optimism in a number of the cuts. Not just the aforementioned "Hung From The Moon", but also on the deceptively titled "Engine of Ruin". Easily my favorite amongst the seven, this cut also spotlights the guitar talents of a very special guest, the kingly Bill Frisell, who handily lends his fretwork to three songs on Bees. On "Engine of Ruin", Frisell really opens things up and wraps this relaxed jaunt in an extended passage that's fairly reminiscent of something you might think Neil Young would contribute -- definitely a nice addition to the new Earth sound.
That's it in a nutshell, folks. Dylan Carlson and Earth continue their slow morph into something I'd actually no longer even consider to be drone at this point. It's certainly a far, far cry from what was blueprinted through a work like Extra Capsular Extraction, that's for damned sure, but it still holds true to the drone foundation of finding a theme and repeating it throughout a long tune -- that, my friends, this record certainly accomplishes. But this is more like soundtrack music, to be perfectly honest. A soundtrack fit for a cross-country trip, or virtually any solitary endeavor that involves you, open spaces, and time for introspective thought. I'd still likely steer those newly interested in Earth towards the excellent Hex, but The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull is yet another brain-blanketing endeavor well suited for those who enjoy mood enhancing music that occasionally takes a back seat to whatever you're up to. Good stuff.
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