[27 October 2009]
Have you ever left an art installation remembering the overall impression of the paintings, but unable to account for the details of a single one? You may remember that the show was generally atmospheric and dark, but the specifics seem to fail you no matter how hard you try. We Fell to Earth’s self-titled debut album is a lot like that. On the one hand, this is a good thing because it means that the band has made a very cohesive recording. On the other, where is the integrity of the individual song? Is near-exact replication of the individual pieces the only way to establish cohesion on a collection of work such as an album?
There are many ways to establish a narrative or motif through songs, and We Fell to Earth generally does it with repetition rather than through songcraft. At the very least, lyrics can help set songs apart from one another and give an album some form of plot arc. But on We Fell to Earth, lyrics (well, vocals in general) are practically window-dressing. They’re usually minimal and barely decipherable. Further, they seem only there to add details to the total experience, rather than to further any project of the song itself. For example, the lyrics to “The Double” consist mainly of the word “suicide” repeated over and over (keep the razor blades and electric drills away during this one, kids).
This album is very percussion-driven, and that’s one way the songs unite. However, the beats are about ten years out of date and sound very similar from song to song. They are so similar, in fact, that songs seem percussive even when not. In “Lights Out,” the bassline eventually gets the upper hand, but it picks up the thread dropped by the percussion and therefore seems as insistent as the percussion itself.
“Careful What You Wish For” stands out since the percussion is more minimal and has a wood-block effect. You can even decipher the opening lyrics—“it ticks like a clock”—as delivered by Wendy Mae Fowler (formerly of earthlings?). “It will break down / and eat you alive”, she cautions as programmed beats accumulate, along with laser noises and a somberly meandering bassline.
Another song that is memorable—not necessarily for the right reasons—is “Burn Away”. It sounds like the Castle Greyskull slowly lowering its drawbridge, given its epic opening, despite placement in the middle of the album. Instrumentals that sound rather introductory build for two minutes and then a minute of haunting vocals comes in, only to be ended with a low whistling sound.
We Fell To Earth is mostly the brainchild of UNKLE’s Rich File, and it shows in the album’s similarity to UNKLE’s music. It’s unfortunate that collaborating with Fowler didn’t help bring in more new elements to show that File had grown and matured as an artist. Not to say that We Fell to Earth is a bad album; it’s just not something most people would want to listen to time and again. It’s also unfortunate that an recording that holds together so well as one piece cannot stand when dissected into its individual pieces.