The Earlies are four guys living on two continents. In 1998, singer-guitarist Brandon Carr met studio whiz John Mark Lapham at a CD Warehouse in Abilene, Texas, four hours west of Dallas. An Abilene native in town visiting family, Lapham was living in Manchester, England, where he'd formed a casual electronic outfit with recording student Giles Hatton and keyboard guy Christian Madden. Impressed with a CD by Carr's band, Lapham asked Carr to contribute to the project. The pair began e-mailing MP3s back and forth; by 2002 they had enough material to begin releasing EPs as the Earlies, at which point Carr flew to England to meet the bandmates he knew only via phone and internet.
If New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman were a rock critic, he'd cite the Earlies as evidence of the flattening of the world, a nifty example of individuals collaborating through technology on work that once required interaction in a physical space. The music on These Were the Earlies, which collects those initial EPs, reflects the decentralized nature of the band's method, which may or may not be the sort of quality Friedman would trot out as a benefit of this latest phase of globalization. On one hand, it seems to have freed these guys' impulse for indie-psych extravagance; "In the Beginning" has weird choral harmonies that echo both Smile and the Animal Collective, while "Wayward Song" benefits from horns provided by Madden's pals in English R&B cover bands. On the other hand, much of These Were sounds less like songs than sketches waiting to be downloaded and assembled into songs; "One of Us Is Dead" is bad Flaming Lips even with Carr's pitch-perfect Wayne Coyne impression.
Which is why they fare better as the producers and backing band on Abilene singer-songwriter Micah P. Hinson's debut. Hinson plays the fingerpicked folk-blues familiar to fans of Iron and Wine, and sings in a deep, serious-sounding voice that would frighten most Iron and Wine fans. But the Earlies cushion his tales of romantic woe with gorgeous arrangements full of strings and horns and galloping spaghetti Western drums. With Hinson as an anchor, the Earlies needn't worry about drifting into (cyber)space.
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