Early Day Miners: All Harm Ends Here (Secretly Canadian, 2006)
For me, Early Day Miners is one of those maddeningly inconsistent bands. To most ears, this Bloomington, IL band’s brand of pastoral rock-slow core seamlessly blends from one release to another. However, as a listener who fell in love with the lush Let Us Garlands Bring, so much that I declared it my favourite album of the year in 2002, I’ve felt that the band had reached a point of inconsistency since then. Early Day Miners experimented with their sullen sound, and in an effort to create a more live-performance sound, stripped away their atmosphere for the disappointing Jefferson at Rest. The end result was an awkward album that captured little of the majesty present on Let Us Garlands Bring. Yet, even with this release, Early Day Miners was able to release a couple of EP’s (Deep Harbour on 12” vinyl and the Sonograph EP) that kept me hoping that the band could find its form, playing the over the hushed melodies of Dan Burton. With the recently released All Harm Ends Here, Early Day Miners inches ever closer to recapturing that gorgeous vibe, while successfully incorporating some of the slightly rawer elements that Jefferson at Rest was shooting for. In short, All Harm Ends Here is another atmospheric beauty, with slow-developing, meandering songs that soothe the listener. At the same time, the band utilizes an approach that sounds more like a live band, with a solid and up-front rhythm section propelling the songs forward. The ever-present angular guitar lines that the band is known for are present, while an organ here or there provides a suitable backdrop for a soundtrack to a quiet country drive. And, while All Harm Ends Here isn’t the spectacular comeback that Let Us Garlands Bring warrants, it remains a satisfying listen with some decent songs, and some wonderful ones.
The highlight of All Harm Ends Here actually occurs in the form of a slow-burning song entitled “We Know In Part”. Buried in the CD (it’s track 7), the song might be easily missed, especially since the song builds to no dramatic climax or displays no obvious theatrical tendencies. However, the melody, liquid guitar lines, subtle strings, and layered vocals perfectly capture a musical moment of sombreness and introspection, and the song ultimately and subtly dazzles the listener. Likewise, “The Union Trade”, with its intricate guitar work, subtle arrangements, and soft vocals also evokes that Mid-West pastoral mood that Early Day Miners has a tendency to so perfectly portray at times. Meanwhile, the band also flirts with a more rock-based approach on songs like “Errance” and “All Harm” which both work (as opposed to the songs on their previous effort). “Errance” opens up All Harm Ends Here as a slightly more aggressive offering, with busy drumming, shades of feedback, and slightly distorted guitars, yet the band uses the effect of tension nicely, and shows restraint that keeps the track sounding subtly atmospheric. “All Harm” is the most aggressive track on the CD, and as Burton sings a dark dirge over dirty-sounding (by Early Day Miner standards) guitars and dense drumming. The band pulls off this song nicely, including a bridge/climax that introduces subtle organ drones and cascading guitars. The rest of the songs on All Harm Ends Here are good enough to keep the relatively gentle and sombre mood of the CD alive, yet do not stand out enough to be particularly memorable.
But, that may be part of the charm of this band, while also being a reason why Early Day Miners fights for good reviews in today’s music climate. Through their use of mood, quiet tension, and patiently constructed songs dipped in foggy atmosphere, Early Day Miners has been accused of being boring or disinterested in their own music. However, for music fans who recognize the subtleties in the folds of CD’s like All Harm Ends Here, the band’s serene approach to songwriting and performance is at the end of the day quite rewarding. On All Harm Ends Here, Early Day Miners has done well to captivate those fans of more sullen slowcore-infused music, and wins back the detractors who perhaps began to write the band off in the past. And while I still have the nagging sense that All Harm Ends Here could have been so much better, it still remains a welcome return from a band that exudes a great amount of talent.
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