EARTH; EOB (Ed O’Brien)
Rating – /Must listen if you’re a fan/
Even if you’re not quite familiar with him you’ve definitely seen or heard of Ed O’Brien somewhere – the tall guy who plays on the left of Thom Yorke in every Radiohead concert. For all of the radical reinventions Radiohead have undergone over the past 30-odd years—the shift to experimental electronica, the redrafting of instrumental roles, Thom Yorke’s ponytail—guitarist Ed O’Brien has always remained guitarist Ed O’Brien. Amid the flurry of instrument swapping and machine tweaking that occurs at a typical Radiohead concert, O’Brien is rarely without his six-string and trusty bank of effects pedals, while his backing vocals often provide a crucial melodic underpinning for Yorke’s flights of fancy. Thus, amid the flashy contributions of guitarist Jonny Greenwood and frontman Thom Yorke, it is easy to forget about Ed O’Brien, but it is his consistent contributions that holds the band together.That grounding principle carries over to his first proper solo album. Where Yorke and Jonny Greenwood have used their extracurricular projects to further explore dissonant techno and avant-garde orchestration, O’Brien’s debut as EOB revisits the late-’80s/early-’90s student-disco sounds that gave rise to his main gig. While his bandmates are going on about Flying Lotus and Oliver Messiaen, O’Brien is preaching the life-changing effects of Screamadelia.
It’s taken some time, but O’Brien has finally stepped out from the shadows with the release of his exceptional solo debut, Earth, under the moniker EOB. He’s noted in interviews that he felt he had to release the record, that part of him would “die” if he didn’t. That sense of urgency is felt all over Earth. The opener “Shangri-La,” is a triumphant scorcher sprinkled with percussion as O’Brien acknowledges feelings he didn’t realize he had before finding the song’s titular mystical harmonious place. Never has his voice sounded so prominent — so recognizable — until now.
Much of Earth is laidback and peaceful, centered around the cerebral “Brasil” and “Olympik,” which clock in over eight minutes, tickling the brain with swirling synths and dreamy lines about love and perfection. “A love supreme is all I need,” he sings on the latter. “To be waking up from the deepest sea.” Tucked right behind “Brasil” is the stunning “Deep Days,” an acoustic slow burner that acts like a respite to the lengthy track before it: “Where you go, I will go/where you stay, I will stay,” he pledges. “And when you rise, I will rise/and if you fall, you can fall on me.”
The sparse, fairytale-like “Long Time Coming” is another standout (“A lonely city girl/looks out into her world”), but it’s the album closer, “Cloak on the Night,” that serves as the LP’s gut-wrenching highlight. Joined by Laura Marling, O’Brien carefully lays down each line over twinkling acoustic guitar: “You and me all night long,” they sing in harmony. “You and me in this storm/holding tight.”
Earth is at it’s best when it’s at it’s subtlest – it has that dreamy quality that transports you memories hanging on the brink of nostalgia. To me, nostalgia seems like the main theme of this project, it is what Ed O’Brien is drawing from, even going back to early sound of Radiohead, a sound that the band has mostly disregarded now. There are few tracks in this projects that take a total left swing from the familiar Radiohead sound, but to me those are this album’s weakest points. Like the song “Banksters”, which is good song and I do see myself to occasionally listening to i, but it feels so left out in the whole album that it hurts it in the end.
With Earth, O’Brien becomes the fourth Radiohead member to branch out and release a record of his own, following Yorke, guitarist Jonny Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway. It leaves bassist Colin Greenwood as the only person in the band yet to step out on his own. The success of all these extracurricular releases, including Earth, suggests that when he does, it’ll be worth waiting for.
Fav Tracks: //Shangri-La/ Brasil/ Long Time Coming/ Mass/ Sail On/ Olympik/ Cloak of the Night//
Least Fav Track: /Banksters/
So what did you think of this album, and what is your favorite solo project from a Radiohead member?
Do let me know in the comments!