Album review: EOB – Earth

Earth by Ed O'Brien

Earth by Ed O'Brien - Credit: Archant

Radiohead guitarist’s debut is direct, diaphanous, danceable and desirable.

Earth by Ed O'Brien

Earth by Ed O'Brien - Credit: Archant

For most of the last 30 years, Ed O’Brien had been happy playing guitar in one of the planet’s biggest bands, Radiohead. While the others busied themselves releasing solo material, O’Brien spent time with his family.

But in 2012, something began to stir. His family relocated to a Brazilian countryside retreat, O’Brien built a home studio there, and ideas for an electronic record began to surface.

The path to Earth was set when he gave Primal Scream’s seminal Screamadelica a spin one day, and he resolved to capture a similar joy and light, breadth and depth, with elements of dance, soul, and ambient music, in a record of his own.

While it’s had an extended gestation – writing sessions in a remote Welsh cottage, recording with a core of top-flight musicians, and a year of tinkering and re-working at Willesden’s Assault & Battery Studios with revered producer Flood, all sandwiched around making and touring Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool – the result is quite beautiful.

Earth’s songs bend, morph and segue, wrapping that uplifting joyfulness O’Brien was pursuing in a compelling flurry of sounds – right from the bleeps, shakers, multi-tracked vocals and guitar motifs of opener Shangri-La.

Equally impressive is Mass; inspired by the NASA film Hubble, a soft finger-picked guitar motif is appended with monotone guitar strum, multi-tracked vocal, intergalactic effects and ominous, prickly electric guitar.

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Away from the atmospherics, Brasil starts as a finger-picked guitar ballad before a deep, pulsing bassline drops and it morphs into a euphoric small-hours banger, somehow sounding expansive and minimal at the same time.

Another behemeoth of electronica arrives in Olympik, a propulsive, indulgent-yet-lean paean to euphoric late-‘80s/early-‘90s indie rave, all the more remarkable as the eight-minute album version is the fourth take from the Welsh recording sessions.

O’Brien’s work is also consciously direct – Banksters rails against the economic devilry of Ponzi schemes and dishonesty (to fuzzed guitar and syncopated drums) and Long Time Coming is a narrative tale of loneliness and the search for love, woven in strummed acoustic guitar and gentle electronic atmospherics.

As if that wasn’t enough, the hypnotically finger-picked ballad Cloak Of The Night, which closes the record, is a romantic duet with Laura Marling that feels beguilingly intimate and immediate.

By any measure, Earth is as impressive as it is compelling.

4/5 stars