PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Ear Pwr: Ear Pwr

If you're gonna stop telling jokes, you'd better have some kick-ass drama up your sleeve.


Ear Pwr

Ear Pwr

Label: Carpark
US Release Date: 2011-05-24
UK Release Date: 2011-05-30
Amazon
iTunes

You know the ol' rock music cliché: a self-titled album from a young band implies a sense of self-discovery, of maturity, of sonic development. No more screwing around with concept albums. No more eight-minute guitar solos or ill-fated "world music" excursions. It's the point in a band's career when everybody says, "Hey, guys -- let's stop messing around and start taking this shit seriously!"

For North Carolina duo Ear Pwr (comprised of Devin Booze and Sarah Reynolds), the stars seem aligned for a more serious artistic makeover. Their full-length debut, 2009's strangely titled Super Animal Brothers III, was an infectious, ADD-riddled pile of home-brewed electronic-pop that sported an over-the-top sense of humor and an unfortunate habit of trying too much too often. Critics were undecided on their tongue-in-cheek synth schizophrenia (although their peers were more kind -- evidenced by their recent set at the 2011 ATP Festival, curated by critical mega-gods Animal Collective, a band Ear Pwr probably grew up worshiping).

Yet Super Animal Brothers' lukewarm reviews seem to have functioned as some sort of wake-up call for the eager duo. After a stint living amidst the burgeoning music scene in Baltimore, Booze and Reynolds packed up, disillusioned, and headed home to the mountains of North Carolina, where they reigned in and focused on the less eclectic, more fluid and cohesive strands that comprise...yes...Ear Pwr, which is, according to a press release, a "collaborative commitment to one another in their maturing musical endeavor". So, is Ear Pwr the sudden peak of maturity we should expect? Unfortunately...yes.

Things commence with "Mountain Home", (one of many tracks to blatantly reference their North Carolina digs), with Booze and Reynolds crafting a futuristic film-noir atmosphere -- an intro somewhat akin to a synthed-out version of Zeppelin's "No Quarter". As the track develops, it's clear that some of the trademarks of their debut are in-tact (Reynolds' shoestring-thin voice, effects-washed percussion, Cheez Wiz synths), but something's decidedly different. Gone are the childlike genre shifts, the danceable rhythms, the endearingly stupid robot backing vocals. There are echoes of Bear in Heaven's heady electro-prog endeavors – added emphasis on live-sounding drums (It's hard to tell whether you're hearing a drum kit or programming) and less emphasis on melody.

"We're not like them / We can't pretend," Reynolds sighs (possibly a jab at those stuffy critics who couldn't take a joke?) "You think we're dumb / Maybe we're just happy." Problem is: the fun's pretty much evaporated. Unlike Bear in Heaven, who manage to build their minimal, synth-based foundations into towering caverns of sound, Ear Pwr are content to simply drill their good ideas -- like the glorious sequenced synth arpeggios on the mind-numbing "National Parks" or the Phil Collins-trapped-in-a-well drum sound that propels "Baby Houses" -- into the ground, running around the tree of synthy art-rock glory instead of scaling it.

Sonically, Ear Pwr does benefit from more time in the studio. The music is more than rich, and there's much to be said for Booze's way with a synthesizer –-- throughout, he demonstrates a finesse for melodic lines that are both hooky and slightly alien. Taken a track at a time, it's pretty effective, but they utilize the exact same sonic template for the entire 39 minutes (minus an occasional shift from "synth" to "synth-bass"), and after a few songs, the euphoria quickly dissolves. Vocals are mixed nearly to a whisper, but it hardly matters since Reynolds' lyrics rarely add up to anything more than nursery rhyme schemes and pseudo-psychedelic mumblings. On "Melt", which features one of the album's finest synth arrangements, she whispers, reassuring a nervous lover, "It's just you and me / In our secret place / Free to be ourselves / Melting into space." Far out. The lyrics to "National Parks" are (outside of the generous invitations to "chase a wild deer" or "make a child smile") are..."National parks". Mumbled 20-some times. (I like to imagine Reynolds, inspired after an eye-opening visit to Yellowstone, returning to the studio and scribbling the phrase over and over on a yellow pad of paper.)

Basically, if you're gonna stop telling jokes, you'd better have some kick-ass drama up your sleeve. On Ear Pwr, they're only half-way there.

Hey -- nobody said maturation was easy.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.