Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II

Photo: Sarah Barrick

The unrehearsed and unconstrained nature of Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II proves that even at its most spontaneous, Earth has the power to astound and inspire.


Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II

Label: Southern Lord
US Release Date: 2011-02-14
Artist Website

Dylan Carlson, founder of influential drone outfit Earth, is an artist who knows all about innovation. Earth's droning metallic '93 opus Earth 2 was responsible for the creation of an entire genre of exceptionally heavy minimalism, and its legacy looms large in the works of such bands as Sunn O))), Nadja, Jesu, Barn Owl and Boris, along with a raft of other down-tempo post-metal and dark ambient artists. It would be impossible to overemphasize Carlson's pivotal role in establishing the essential elements in the world of reverb-soaked, downtuned doom-laden drone.

Carlson was lost in the drug abuse wilderness for some years, but returned in 2005 with Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method and instantly re-established his reputation. The album dispensed with overtly metallic components, instead utilizing vistas of godforsaken prairies and rough-hued Americana. It’s since had a significant influence on the post-rock scene. Earth then went on to craft even more influential albums of instrumental, experimental droning rock. Long gone are the huge dyspeptic feedbacking soundscapes, and although the music has always remained emotional, atmospheric and entrancing, 2008's The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull and 2011's Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I saw Carlson searching for more scorched and fragmentary landmarks.

Angels I marked a turning point for Earth. The loss of keyboardist Steve Moore, the addition of cellist Lori Goldston, and a noticeably bluesy avant-folk tenor, found Carlson, drummer Adrienne Davis and bassist Karl Blaus producing some of Earth's most unrestrained and open-ended work yet. Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II contains five improvised tracks that were recorded during the previous album’s original sessions. It serves as a more experimental piece, further exploring the cinematic themes of Angels I's brooding, 20-minute, eponymously titled track.

The new album places as much emphasis on the journey as on the destination, and the band ambles through a series of billowing tracks with a lugubrious pace. There’s plenty of low-pitched dusty drone throughout, and intriguing musical interplay between all involved. Combine that with Carlson's experimentations, off-centre intonations, and an almost otherworldly vision, and the album is more than sufficiently infused with an esoteric mood.

Opening track, "Sigil of Brass", is a scant three and a half minutes of washed-out pastoral minimalism, with Carlson and Goldston scratching at an ethereal tune that leaves you grasping at tendrils. It's a beautiful start, offering whispered hints of what's to come. The nine-minute "His Teeth Old Brightly Shine" follows, with a similar thread of fragility. While it is fleshed out by Blaus' bass and indistinct percussion, Carlson's twanging notes and detuned strums sound magnificently unhinged, as if you've inadvertently stumbled into a backwoods hamlet filled with countrified unease.

Goldston’s cello work is featured prominently throughout Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II. It adds a counterpoint to Carlson's ranging riffs, and enriches the mournfulness as only the desolate wail of a cello can. "Waltz (A Multiplicity of Doors)", the first track to feature Davies' judicious percussion -- which arrives with a keen and welcome thump -- is driven hard by Goldston's cello. She works her string enchantments, drawing every ounce of emotionality from her instrument. With the rest of the band pushing the sorrowful dirge forward, and Carlson adding in notes where fit, it is a magnificent example of the potency that comes from the band instinctively finding the heart of the song.

It's somewhat awe-inspiring to hear such songs crafted spontaneously. While Carlson clearly had a guiding hand in directing the tunes, there’s a strong sense of equality at play -- Davies’ restrained drumming and Blau's stout bass are just as important for directing the mood as Carlson's cosmically channeled guitar and Goldston's artistry. The songs themselves, while loose and unfurling, are just as powerful as those found on Angels I, and there's a sense of dramatic tension to be found on the lysergic-flecked folk of "The Corascene Dog". Album closer, "The Rakehell", which hews closer to striped-back bayou blues than folk, is also captivating, although for entirely different reasons. It offers a glimpse of a new direction for Earth, underscored as it is by a sultry swagger, of all things. It's surprising, but damn if it isn't absolutely perfect.

The notion of improvisation can cause some folk's knees to quiver, but Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II represents everything that is ingenious about a group of musicians gathering the threads of a song to weave a striking sonic tapestry. For over two decades now Earth has been experimenting with tone, texture, nuance and often-threadbare arrangements. Even at its densest the band always balanced virtuosity with minimalism, piecing together nebulous songs in which the space between notes was just as important as the notes themselves.

The unrehearsed and unconstrained nature of the album proves that even at its most spontaneous, Earth has the power to astound and inspire. This is an accomplished and valiant album, a more-than-worthy heir to its sensational predecessor.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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