The Life and Times – The Flat End of the Earth

3 out of 5

Produced by: Dan Dixon

Label: 54’40 or Fight!

This was my first exposure to Allen Epley, of whose writing style (via Shiner and L&Ts releases following this) I’ve since become a fan: Thick guitar slabs juxtaposed with melodic but counter -timed bass and drums, Epley crooning in a dream state before his vocals and thoughts sharpen for a given song’s punctuation point.  The stuff can sound a little bland at first, but tends to be of the sort that gains dimensions with repeated listens.

Given that this appeared on a label I was obsessed with at the time – 54’40 or Fight! – and which I believed could do no wrong, I have this EP many listens.  Opener Raisin in the Sun hammers the good gracious fuck out of you when its drums kick in, and just layers on the Loud And Yet Melodic for its ___ minutes, leaving you breathless and definitely wanting more.  Followup Houdini sensibly takes a more languorous approach, reverbed, distorted vocals and tip-toes into emotion, a subtle cymbal tap letting us down easy at the end.  This is an excellent start.  Track three loses steam a bit as the group somewhat repeats the opener’s formula, but that’s okay, that’s sort of the Epley m.o., as long as he’s given the space to explore and expand upon his habits to make it reach to new places.  It’s possible that happens on track three, High Scores – it definitely hits a pretty awesome crescendo –  but overall I always have a hard time telling because of how confused the latter half of the EP becomes.

Movies and Books seems to want to zoom past the repetition issue by amping up the volume and aggression, except the disc is already guitar heavy, so it doesn’t have much amping room and falls a bit flat.  So we peel back for track 5, Servo, which is the album’s biggest misfire – a wandering, punctuationless 5-minute snooze that has allows us to most clearly hear Epley’s lyrics but which, on this track, are particularly – unfortunately – uninteresting.  The ending title track clearly wants to have an epic build with its strings and percussion smashing conclusion, but it, too feels like its oomph has been shaved down to something much more minor.

Its as though the group had this bottled up relentless energy that they spent on the first three tracks, and then gave the rest of their ideas over to chance, which well personify as producer Dan Dixon of Dropsonic, since the last three tracks are produced with the exact same flatness Dan produces his band with.  And once you make that connection, you hear how his tweaking is trying to make Servo into more of a guitar jam than it is, and how he wants Movies and Books to be like a Dropsonic rock-out.

Both bands like volume – and I like Dropsonic – but they’re different bands, with different strengths.   Thankfully the group’s self-identity would solidify a bit hereafter and they found producers who were supportive of that (not to suggest Dan wouldn’t have been, but his audible fingerprints are too apparent here).

So I listened to the EP quite frequently then, and have since come back to it several times, always with the same summary: Starts great, then I get completely bored by the back half.  Give it an award for consistency, at least, but if you find yourself liking those opening tracks – which are solid enough to justify checking this out – I definitely recommend exploring more of Epley’s offerings.