There’s no denying it – it’s definitely weird realizing that an album released in the year 2000 is now 20 years old. In the year 2000, Bill Clinton was well into his second presidential term. The internet, while not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today, was off and running. It may have been pre-9/11, but it was post-Cold War. Hearing the debut album by the Indiana-based Early Day Miners, while already two decades in the rear-view mirror, one gets the impression of something that may contain the sonic markers of its time, but not at all in a “guilty pleasure” way. This is warm, intimate, bracing music with no expiration date.
Early Day Miners released Placer Found on 2 April 2000 on the Western Vinyl label, but it was only available in the CD format as the resurgence of vinyl was at least a decade away. For this anniversary release, Secretly Canadian (who released several subsequent Early Day Miners’ albums) has taken on the task of bringing this unique, often overlooked treasure of an album back into the world, in a lavish two-record set, which includes two bonus tracks from the original sessions.
The music on Placer Found is largely informed by the environment where it was created. The vast expanses of the American Midwest are evident in the slowly unfurling sonic landscapes that make up the nine songs in this reissue, which were recorded in the band’s home of Bloomington, Indiana, throughout 1999. The gentle, deliberate pacing of the title track that opens the album features bright, almost jazzy drumming from Rory Leitch, which works beautifully alongside the guitar work of Dan Burton and Joe Brumley, as Kenny Childers’ bass playing provides a subtle anchor. “East Berlin at Night” follows at an almost glacial pace – the deliberate tempo is a leisurely treasure to get lost in.
There are times when Placer Found moves away from the slowcore and shoegaze labels that Early Day Miners tend to get saddled with. “In These Hills” is a beautiful, often breathtaking excursion into instrumental territory that covers acoustic folk with electric, country-leaning ambient textures. “Stanwix” also leans a bit into ambient territory, with gentle, almost whisper-quiet vocals that recall Jeff Tweedy at his most downbeat.
Placer Found picks up the pace slightly with the warm, engaging “Longwall”, which benefits from perfectly meshed twin guitar work that sounds a bit like power-pop in slow motion. But most of the time, Early Day Miners are happy to keep the pace slow and relaxed, as on the original album’s closer, “Desert Cantos”, which includes dramatic piano chords and aching harmonica that give the song an alternating vibe of hymn-like and bluesy.
The two bonus tracks on the 20th-anniversary edition make up the LP’s fourth side. “Prospect Refuge”, an instrumental that hints at math-rock with guitar figures that frequently repeat before tempos shift into another section, which repeats, as the song is built block by sonic block. “Blue Casino” picks up the pace a bit but essentially retains the overall feel of the previous song, an instrumental with a variety of interesting subsections (using a riff they would later use for the song “Jefferson” on their 2003 album Jefferson at Rest).
Early Day Miners made several more albums in subsequent years, the last one being Night People in 2011. With the reissue of Placer Found, the band is touring once again (although the dates are probably being altered significantly in the wake of coronavirus). This deluxe reissue is the perfect opportunity to discover a band and an album that may have flown under the radar upon initial release but deserves a great deal of attention and appraisal. It seemed like a perfectly fitting album for 2000 but is just as satisfying to listen to today.