The first time I heard Early Day Miners was at a Wilco show in 2005. They were the opening act and, as my ears soon discovered, largely incomparable to the alt-country and rock sound that Jeff Tweedy et al perform. It was clear to me that — even there in the balcony seats with my neck strained and angled awkwardly toward the stage — Early Day Miners were cut from some variation of the shoegaze mold, using layered vocals and majestic repetition to create a wistful landscape of sound. If you’ll indulge me in a Hot Topic-style mashup description, think of Red House Painters reined in by the folky melodies of the Great Lake Swimmers and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the Miners are like. Notice, too, the nominal template of adjective/noun/profession of these three bands, and suddenly the similarities seem much more than coincidental.
For The Treatment, their sixth album since their 2001 debut, Early Day Miners have continued the tradition of long, sweeping tracks that paint the air with meditative descriptions of life’s many temperaments, with the addition of more germane social topics. But make no mistake: this is not an unpleasant trip down melancholy lane with dead trees and crumpled Dear John letters lining the curb. This is an exploration of life’s sometimes tragic themes that works toward an ultimate goal of acceptance, betterment, and change. With no reservation, I can say that Early Day Miners are successful in that aim.
This Indiana group has reinvented themselves musically as well, as the opener and unabashed nod to the Pixies, “In the Fire”, demonstrates. The shimmering tendencies of shoegaze and slowcore (which sounds like a dangerous misnomer) are still there, but more focus is paid to a concentration of melody in the form of thrusting basslines, more controlled use of the guitar effects pedal, and the very subtle but integral usage of organs. In other words, it’s the same band wearing a different style of jacket. And how stylish it is, like some kind of sonic haute couture.
“So Slowly” and “The Surface of Things” are epic and expansive expressions of this change. The contemplative process that explores the dynamic between atmosphere and pop is a constant throughout the record, be it on the U2-esque centerpiece of “How to Fall”, the lazy hypnotism of “The Zip”, or the acoustic solemnity of the album’s final song, “Silver Oath”. There is nothing overwrought about The Treatment, despite its name, nothing that attempts to gloss the ears of the listener over with audio tricks, pretension, or forced enthusiasm. Early Day Miners instead opt for an uncomplicated opus where memories, desires, and experiences overlap.
When The Treatment concludes, it feels like there has been an indoctrination into the fundamental philosophy of the band. The transition therein is smooth and gentle, but still strongly emotive, akin to what the Cure’s Disintegration would have sounded like if Robert Smith had a more optimistic outlook. And while this is a poppier, more finely polished rendering of their sound, this is also a magnificent culmination of everything Early Day Miners have been working toward and perfecting throughout the duration of their career.