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June 3, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Album journeys through vivid synth landscape

Earth

Capitol Records

Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien, better known as EOB, made his solo album debut with his album “Earth.” Inspired by the time he spent in Brazil, the album is full of organic, lush sounds. The blend of sparkling synth, plucking guitars and O’Brien’s steady vocals paints vivid pictures of natural beauty. 

These elements immediately come together in the opening track, “Shangri-La,” which perfectly sets the tone of the album. The playful sounds of the instrumentals are layered beautifully. The song blends rough and smooth sounds to create a vivid and complex soundscape. These aspects complement O’Brien’s dreamy vocals, creating an almost ethereal sound to the track with the exception of its punchy chorus, which provides a smart contrast.

The brilliant layering of sounds continues on the next track of the album, “Brasil.” Approximately eight and a half minutes long, O’Brien takes listeners along on a journey to Brazil. The dreamy track begins with the simple sounds of delicate guitar plucking that accompany O’Brien’s rawsounding vocals. At the three-minute mark, these elements begin to soften until a steady, solid beat emerges, and the track begins to transform. O’Brien’s vocals slowly reemerge as the track builds in intensity and complexity.

The first two tracks are a great introduction to the album, giving listeners an idea of what’s to come. However, the third track, “Deep Days,” is a complete shift from the elements utilized in “Shangri-La” and “Brasil.” “Deep Days” begins with an echoey synthesizer that leads into a guitar riff accented with metallic-sounding, snappy string plucks. At the end, the song’s unique elements build into a trippy synthesizer in the background. Although “Deep Days” provides variation, this contrast almost confuses listeners when trying to distinguish O’Brien’s style as a soloist. 

The longest track on the album, “Olympik,” follows a similar style that “Brasil” does. The sounds aren’t the same nor is the feeling of the music itself, but the structure of the tracks is quite similar. The length of the two songs helps listeners see where the music lines up, but the musical journeys between the tracks stand strongly apart. Whereas “Brasil” brings listeners to the lush and natural paradise of Brazil, “Olympik” sounds like a stroll through a trippy funk haven. 

“Olympik” begins with a funk-sounding synth that leads into a dense, saturated percussion part. Although it is heavy, the percussion blends seamlessly into O’Brien’s swirling vocals; the bubbling synth; and the electric, frizzing guitar riffs. These all diffuse into an electronic, experimental sound about halfway through the track until O’Brien’s vocals reemerge and close out the song. 

Closing out the 46-minute album is “Cloak of the Night,” featuring folk-rock musician Laura Marling. Although O’Brien’s style has been disconnected from track to track on this album, listeners can definitely distinguish that this song sounds like one by Marling. Its soft, finger-picked acoustic guitar harmonies give “Cloak of the Night” an intimate folk sound that is common in Marling’s music but not O’Brien’s. This track provides a soothing conclusion in comparison to the playfulness at the beginning of the album. 

Being his debut solo album, listeners can tell that O’Brien’s work is much different from that of Radiohead. “Earth” provides a satisfactory exploration into the peaceful side of electronica and an exciting first step in O’Brien’s solo career.