British three-piece aspires to Eno-like experimentation but comes off as a weaker Stone Roses.
If their publicity material and interviews are any indication, the Early Years clearly believe that they are an edgy, experimental band. They formed in 2004 when a couple of London friends saw a third, David Malkinson, now the band's frontman, performing a 20-minute set of "psychedelic guitar noise" behind a array of effect pedals. With fashionable influences, such as groundbreaking artists the Velvet Underground and Brain Eno, the band managed to land a demo on the airwaves of the BBC and were soon gaining even more attention thanks to a Nike World Cup commercial and the support of MTV2. Before long, even the illustrious Mr. Eno himself was counted among their biggest fans. Now comes the American release of their self-titled debut, available in the UK since September. But as is so often the case, there is little on the record itself to suggest those lofty influences. Though they'd be loathe to admit it, there's more Coldplay here than there is John Cale.
That's not to say there isn’t quite a lot to like about the Early Years. In fact, it would be more accurate to include them in the company of acts like the Stones Roses and the Soundtrack of Our Lives than it would be to compare them to Chris Martin's radio-savvy balladry. A song like "So Far Gone" has plenty to offer with its pulsing guitar and driving beat. "This Ain't Happiness", a gentle and catchy ballad which closes the album, is just as good; so is "Things", which starts off similarly before swelling to a raucous climax by the end of the song.
Unfortunately, much of that quality material is drowning in a sea of filler. The average song on The Early Years is over five minutes long, with the fifth track, "Song For Elizabeth”, topping the list at an uncalled for 8:49. Much of the nearly an hour it takes to listen to the record is time dedicated to nothing more than the ambient sweep of electric guitars and a wash of crescendoing cymbals. The Early Years clearly have a lot of fun playing with their effect pedals and toying with knobs and dials, but they seem to have confused "experimental" with "instrumental". Sadly, these lads don't have the same knack for creating fascinating sonic landscapes as, say, someone like Sigur Rós; their talents are much more suited to the cause of fairly straight-forward rock and roll. As a result, by the time the album comes to a close, the long stretches of ambient noodling have started to wear more than a little thin.
The American release of the album is accompanied by a second disc of bonus material -– including a handful of unreleased tracks and videos for "All Ones and Zeros" and "So Far Gone". Given the already generous length of the album itself, it seems an iffy decision, one made even more so by the questionable quality of the material included. While "Don’t Ever Change the Way You Feel" is a lovely little acoustic tune, "A Little More Drones" and "An Introduction to the Ambient Sounds of the Early Years" are -- as advertised -- the height of The Early Years' so-called experimentation. In other words, they offer nothing more than 15 and a half minutes of droning guitars and synths. Since they aren't at all enjoyable to listen to, one can only assume the tracks are meant for the navel-gazing enjoyment of the band themselves -- or maybe for people on loads and loads of drugs. Just because the recordings exist doesn't mean they're worth releasing.
Still, despite its many drawbacks, The Early Years is an album that does show some real promise. These Londoners aren't there yet, but with a little luck the quality of their material will improve as they mature and gain a better perspective on their own strengths and weaknesses. They might not be the next Brian Enos or Lou Reeds, but would the next Ian Brown be such a bad thing to wish for?