EDM Night People

[Western Vinyl; 2011]

Styles: indie rock
Others: Early Day Miners, Dreamers of the Ghetto, The Hold Steady, Live, Low

Early Day Miners, a shifting collective centered around front man and only consistent member Daniel Burton, enjoyed a taste of the limelight during the post-rock blitz of the early aughts. Borrowing equally from the likes of Tortoise and Low, their early records offered a ragged, somnolent take on sprawling Americana. Let Us Garlands Bring, their sophomore release, was a minor critical darling and secured them a loyal cult following. Subsequent records flirted with more recognizably pop structures; song-lengths contracted into the four-to-five-minute range; vocals, once hushed and whispered on the periphery of melodies, began to coagulate into “verses” and “choruses.” And while the band liked to keep one foot in the post-rock door (see Offshore), it was clear by 2009’s The Treatment that the Miners’ ship was setting sail for more accessible waters.

Night People is the band’s second release with their Treatment lineup of bassist Jonathan Richardson and drummer Marty Sprowles, with the addition of guitarist John Dawson. It’s also their first under the abbreviated moniker of EDM (by the way, does this remind anyone else of another perplexing re-branding by a long-running band about a decade back?). While this switch seems to imply a break from the past, the fact that their new moniker is an acronym for their old one would suggest a certain degree of continuity. Indeed, Night People seems to bear both of those contradictory conclusions out. It’s easily their most radio-friendly release to date; taking the eight-and-a-half-minute instrumental “Milking the Moon” out of the equation, the average song runtime hovers right around the four-minute mark, and the production is warmer than even The Treatment, providing a sound almost akin to some of the early-to-mid-90s’ more sober-minded post-grungers like Live or Candlebox.

If this sounds disconcerting on paper, then let me reassure you that it’s hard to see this album as anything other than a step in the right direction. In spite of some truly gorgeous moments, The Treatment, which attempted to reconcile the group’s increasing pop leanings with its spacious post-rock past, wound up feeling a little slack. Night People slices Burton’s songwriting down to the bone, bringing melodies to the forefront and giving the individual tracks an immediate punch that the band has hitherto lacked. It’s far from a total 180, but songs like “Video/Stereo,” with its sinuous, almost danceable bass line, or the menacing angularity of “Terrestrial Rooms” feel much more carnal than the wispy, ethereal melodies that populated the band’s older releases.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Burton’s lyrical predilection for rural America. The lost souls drifting through Night People’s rusted-out landscape comprise a familiar cast of small-town dreamers and drunks. His lyrics complement the music well, creating a persistent sense of melancholy that remains with you even as the words themselves drift out of memory. The album is at its most moving when it’s scraping bottom. The heart-wrenching duet “Temple Bar” unfolds like a junkie’s plea. “In temple bar/ Like Louie L’Amour/ We’ll live free/ Under the stars,” Burton assures us, insisting that “You’re safe with me/ My word is true/ I wouldn’t mislead you.” But the listener has no more confidence in his guarantees than does his interlocutor, voiced by longtime collaborator Kate Long, who manages to raise the bar on every track she contributes to. Her world-weary protestations slip in between Burton’s earnest declarations like the dark, beautiful shadow of tragedy cast by every burnout’s luminescent pipe dreams.

“Milking the Moon” is EDM’s only call back to their post-rock past. But even this song sounds miles away from any of their former excursions. There’s no glacial acoustic guitar figures leading the listener down rambling forest paths, nor even the kind of muscular riffing found on “Land of the Pale Saints” or “Offshore.” In its place is a kind of blue-collar psychedelia, a humming, coiling serpent of distorted guitar endlessly unwinding against a backdrop of ringing synth and feedback. It’s an engrossing, hypnotic ride that’s more vital than anything on the back half of Offshore.

Night People, therefore, is less a clean break from the past as the next logical step along the path to EDM’s future. What stands out above all else, however, is the sheer amount of heart on display. Although the size and scope of the album seems smaller than some of the band’s past undertakings, there’s a real ambition at play here, a hunger comparable to that of the album’s titular figures aching to transcend the choking quotidian closing in around them. But while that may remain a hopeless dream for Burton’s characters, his band seems to pull it off with ease and grace.

Links: EDM - Western Vinyl

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