Sunday, February 27, 2011
Third Ear Band - Third Ear Band (Review)
Third Ear Band's second album, 1970's self-titled (now sometimes retroactively titled Elements) builds on the oboe melody-led excursions of Alchemy by assigning each of its four songs to an element. While the instrumentation is still basically the same as the debut, the songs are considerably more identifiable from each other.
Every time I listen to this album I'm amazed at how fun a listen it is without being particularly melodic--the opener, "Air" gently coalesces out of the ether based on a repetitive tabla beat and some probing oboe and cello/violin groans and fails to present any melody except for an occasionally repeated violin riff. And yet, its smoky mystery is utterly compelling and lushly gorgeous, especially considering how few instruments produce the music. "Earth" shifts gears completely, with the strings playing pizzicato over a much more minstrel-like beat from the drums. Dual oboes improvise gently, probing Eastern-scales, while the tempo subtly gathers pace. All of a sudden it's an ecstatic frenzy, then just as suddenly the tension disappears, the rhythmic pattern slightly shifts, and the process starts again. Despite the general mood and ever-present tonal center of the music, there's no real melody to speak of--clear and quite listenable evidence that melody needn't reign supreme as the only musical element worthy of close attention.
"Fire" is a brilliant study in high-register drones and another shift in texture, with a relentless wavering feeling not unlike that of a dancing flame. "Water" closes the album with an actual melody (imagine that) over sustained violin with just enough dissonance to remind us that we're not in any territory that had been scouted at the time of the album's release, or really a whole lot more since. As I listen and re-listen in rapture to the strange and evocative sounds these instruments make together, I'm not always sure how the structures pertain to the elements they're named for, but in reality it's immaterial--by consciously giving each suite a distinct mood, the band stretched itself beyond its impressive but sometimes nebulous debut and gave structure to another forty odd minutes of rare beauty with memorable compositional elements.
Get it here on CD along with the band's first album.