By: Michael Popke
In case you haven’t heard, the self-titled debut from the UK duo IOEarth was nominated for “Best Debut Record” in Italy’s 2009 Prog Awards. That honor recognizes the sheer variety of and ambition behind the music on these two CDs, which spans more than 90 minutes. Dave Cureton and Adam Gough make music that’s hard to classify; elements of rock, pop, classical, jazz, world, gospel, techno and prog can be heard amidst influences from Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Devin Townsend, Pink Floyd, Mike Keneally and Sigur Rós.
The album – IOEarth’s studio debut – evolved from a main melody Cureton and Gough were working on that became the musical theme for a small collection of songs. Taking that idea, adding a few more musicians and then running with it, the duo divided IOEarth into three movements: “Water,” “Earth” and “Air.” According to the band’s web site, the first movement represents “the story of people living a carefree existence but longing to see more of the unknown world.” The second movement is “the story of entrapment, of people held in situations they would do anything to be free from,” while the final movement is “the story of liberation, of the joy gained from freeing yourself of your burdens and of the sacrifices you must make to achieve this.”
It’s difficult to imagine the sacrifices Cureton and Gough went through to achieve a record of this magnitude, as IOEarth is an elaborate, intoxicating and exhausting experience that likely will not resonate deeply until after several listening sessions. Each song is different: Some boast female vocals reminiscent of The Gathering (“Smoky Wood”) and others levitate with techno-prog (“Sun Is Going Down”). “Loops” spins with dramatic Middle Eastern swirls that crescendo and then crash into the orchestral “Symphony #1” before finally venturing into metal territory on “Light and Shade” with screaming guitars. Along the way, listeners happen upon strategically placed short and ambient interludes, sometimes with buried vocals.
This is serious, occasionally mind-blowing, stuff. Unfortunately, there’s also little wiggle room for the multiple musicians and vocalists. Everything sounds so precise that it’s almost as if Cureton and Gough refused to let themselves have fun with this project. Maybe they did have fun, I don’t know. But everything about this album – from the music to its artwork and liner notes – reeks of pretentiousness. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’m just sayin’…