About a year ago, a friend introduced me to Bloomington, IL’s Early Day Miners through 2003’s The Sonograph EP, and I quickly dismissed the disc as a meager analecta of stale, Red House Painters-derived, bare-as-bones dream-folk, awash in typical understatement and weary vocals suspiciously reminiscent of the Painters’ Mark Kozelek. As I soon found out, it was a comparison which, while entirely warranted, the Early Day Miners have struggled to shake off since their 2001 debut Placer Found. In the four years since, the addition of histrionic strings and densely layered distortion have only replaced the bareness of Placer Found with slightly more lush atmospherics; the Miners seem intent on evolving at no faster a rate than the very sounds they construct. That said, All Harm Ends Here is another deliberately sludgy, dragging attempt at slowcore revivalism, but where influences like Red House Painters and Low so aptly used sparse atmosphere to convey emotion, the Early Day Miners’ sobriety has yet again choked any potential life out the album’s nine sorrowful songs.
Like a ghostly imprint of 2003’s full-length Jefferson at Rest, All Harm Ends Here occasionally attempts to abandon the exiguous qualities of older releases by layering distorted ambience upon the five-piece’s typical, Midwestern melancholy, effectively picking up where slowcore progenitors Codeine left off 15 years ago with its Frigid Stars LP. Perhaps—like their predecessors—Early Day Miners reward those with the patience for such austerity; instead, I tend to imagine All Harm Ends Here as some endless funeral march, sleepily treading over weather-beaten ground ad infinitum. Like some ominously bare Midwestern landscape (think the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska,) the album is an unsettling brushstroke of small-town gloom imbued by feelings of subdued hopelessness and despair.
Which is fine, I guess.
In fact, this very quality has interestingly prompted Secretly Canadian to promote the record as a descendent of the “‘80s sad-as-hell dark underground”, citing post-punkers like Echo and the Bunnymen and the Church as influences and even current revivalist darlings Interpol as contemporaries. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Standing shoulder-deep in gloom and dreariness, All Harm Ends Here is anything but angular and concise, its individual cuts expansive yet directionless and ultimately forming a meandering mess. Don’t expect frontman Daniel Burton’s lyrics to line the notebooks of your neighbor’s gothed-out 15-year-old daughter; the album’s mournful, electric folk is the stuff of struggling to make ends meets in a depressed, factory-dependent town, not the eye-lined inner recesses of some tortured, teenage soul. Sharing neither mood nor manner of execution with acts like Interpol, All Harm Ends Here is sadcore-ridden Americana, through and through.
Following a strong pair of opening numbers—the subtly pummeled “Errance” and the Frigid Stars-cum-A Thousand Leaves-worshipping “Townes”—All Harm Ends Here quickly recedes into aimless drudgery. The softly-noodled “The Union Trade” is a hushed dive into sublime pixie-skipping through light ripples of angelic vocal harmonies. At first an odd, late-night soother, the song fails to reach any logical climax, its light and all-too-circular melody evoking some fleeting musical idea that failed to fully materialize within Burton’s (or perhaps Kozelek’s) brain. Later, in “We Know in Part”, organ drones and sleepy vocals intersperse with light strings like some wistful lullaby, but again, feel more like textures extracted from some larger, never-completed song.
While “The Way We Live Now” recalls the drunken bar-folk of Arab Strap, album closer “The Purest Red” benefits from an off-kilter high-hat and some apparitional harmonies. Keeping in form, the song falls victim to its own atmospherics, tangentially approaching some melody’s ghost but ultimately drifting off like a directionless cloud formation, having thoroughly lulled me to sleep.