"There are some guys in England who would kill you for this," Brandon Carr says as he discreetly hands me a plastic case. The bearded Dallasite then gives me a look like he's got murder on his mind as well. "Don't. Leak. It."
I can't help but laugh, and it's not because of the faux threat. Carr, the lead singer of half-Texan, half-British band the Earlies, is so anxious to get an outsider's opinion of his new, unmastered and unreleased album that he takes the risk of me burning a copy. He knows full well that only a handful of lucky souls have heard the disc so far and that a full-blown Internet leak could be only a few mouse clicks away. The band's lead singer trusts me, since we've become friends after meeting last year, but I have to wonder: How stupid can he be to take the risk? Really, an hour later, I'm practically chaining myself to the bed to stop myself from doing what Carr feared.
After returning from yet another multi-month stint in Manchester, England, where the rest of the band currently resides, Carr returned to his Dallas home and called me to meet for a late-night drink. I was tired and used some excuse--bushed, busy at work, washing hair--when he mentioned having a copy of Enemy Chorus (tentative title) in his possession. I was at the bar in eight minutes.
The promise of being the first writer in the world to hear the new album was enticing enough, but I was particularly stoked about the follow-up to These Were the Earlies, an album that, while gorgeous, served as a tombstone to the band's genesis. No longer were Carr and his three band mates (including former Abilenian John-Mark Lapham) trading song experiments via e-mail across the pond; the group, along with its seven-piece backing band, could now sit in a studio and concoct larger half-orchestra, half-synth walls of wonder than ever before.
But even I couldn't have predicted how spot-on Carr's promises of a "much different" sound would be. Opening track "No Love in Your Heart" tries to fool Earlies fans with a multi-violin intro--simple, orchestral, nice--but then a thudding '70s-style synth dominates the mix. Soon, pitter-pattering piano, drawn-out keyboard notes and a rolling snare beat round out the dirty synth rhythm, and then Carr's unique, high-register voice chimes in: "Is there nothing that's going to fill the holes that you've been digging tonight?"
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This sentiment sets the tone for the rest of Enemy Chorus, as the breezy adventurousness of These Were the Earlies has been charged with a river of blood. The newfound sense of urgency is no more apparent than on "Burn the Liars," the most obvious candidate for the album's single. It's the first-ever Earlies song to really cut the group's soaring, so-many-instruments-in-the-mix style to the bone; a fast-paced, four-note piano melody and hyper 4/4 drumbeat dominate the song, like a demented ELO b-side, though there's still room for a few well-placed synth embellishments. Carr's lyrics echo the track's restraint: "Don't break these chains of mine/They hold me tightly so I can find."
With the last album, Carr called his involvement with the songwriting process minimal. Lapham disputed that assertion, but on Enemy Chorus, Carr's traditional guitar-rock-songwriting schooling definitely has a stronger influence on the songs. The happy medium between Carr's straightforward approach and the other members' love for studio/production trickery sounds like an updated, rock version of Massive Attack's Mezzanine (if that group employed more slide guitar, horns and flutes, anyway). It's not all dark 'n' dreary, of course; on "The Ground We Walk On," Tim DeLaughter could guest on vocals and people would confuse the fluffy, chorus-assisted song for a Polyphonic Spree B-side. And when the group is 11-strong, funk-loaded horn anthems such as "Foundation and Earth" rise from the stew of heavily processed pianos and guitars.
The way Carr tells it, this is the album he's been dreaming of making ever since he and Lapham experimented in a small, beat-up Abilene studio during his college days, and as impressive as the last album was, Enemy Chorus' ambitious 11-member arrangements would never have been possible with mere Internet song swapping. Carr's impatience for a review makes sense, especially since he reports some bad news this week--the album has been delayed by worldwide label Names until January 2007.
"I hope it doesn't get pushed back further and further and eventually get shelved," Carr says, "but I doubt it. They've already given us our advance." On the bright side, the delay will allow Names to release it simultaneously in all markets, and 7-inch singles will tease the record this fall. Until then, if you want to hear it...well, don't expect a leak anytime soon. These file-swappers know better.