We Must Avoid The Gravity
In 2001, I was at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with my mom and sister. I was sixteen, we had been going there for a few years by that point and I had established some sort of tradition of buying CDs there so that I had CDs on my shelf that were the “CDs I bought at the beach” because I was sixteen. Did I mention I was sixteen?
This particular year, I picked up two things. First, I bought this at a little Christian book / music / trinket store. I still have it, look what it’s worth! This thing is $40 sitting in a box in my attic.
This album is actually an entire story in and of itself. It set me on a lot of different paths that led to some crazy places — I met some of these people eventually? That’s probably the craziest one. But there’s a few other gems in there. I’ll bookmark this as an idea for the future, but for now let’s concentrate on track ten: Earthsuit — “One Time”
There are a lot of things that grabbed me about this track. First of all, it sounded like nothing else on the record. In fact, it was like nothing I had ever heard, and you’ll probably say the same if you give it a listen. The song is a mishmash of genre — it seems at first glace to be somewhere in the vicinity of nu metal, which was big at the time. But there’s too much else going on, musically, to limit it to that.
The song starts with a fade up of some kind of synthesized sound. The fade up is probably one of the strangest things in and of itself — what other songs start with a fade up? I can’t even find it by googling. Then a sample of a horn section starts, glitches, and repeats in a pattern. Drums crash in and set a tempo. Back to the horn sample. Drums break it again, interrupting the sample, and beginning the song in earnest.
The sound is vaguely Red Hot Chili Peppers-funky. Intricate, subtle and delicate bassline that builds to a climax at the end of the track. Drums and fills are not buried in the mix and hit a sweet spot of rhythm and syncopation. The guitar swaps between raggae/ska strums, high gain power chord choruses, and lead countermelody touches. Meany’s synthesizer is largely lost in the song, and is used to much greater effect on other tracks on the record.
That leaves the vocals — the first thing that will probably stand out to anyone is that Earthsuit is the rare band with two true lead vocalists. They share the responsibility equally, exchanging lines, harmonizing, or swapping verse/chorus duties. Adam LaClave does not play an instrument in the “One Time” music video, but he uses the freedom to uh, I don’t want to call it dancing… move in a rhythmic manner? Again, the Talking Heads influence down to the stylized suit is pretty obvious. LaClave only sings on the album, which is worth noting because of what Paul Meany adds to the band…
Although he doesn’t do it anymore, Paul Meany used to rap a pretty good game (see 2:22 in the “One Time” music video). He admitted in a recent periscope that he has not kept up with rapping and it isn’t something he thinks he could do again. Meany has a style that is both familiar and all its own. Based on his lyrics, he doesn’t adhere to rhyme scheme, which is fine with me… his lyrics are often vague or seemingly meaningless, which reminds me of Mike Patton or more recently, Aesop Rock. He sings on the song and other tracks as well, with a raspy soulful cry that often cuts right through the mix. His singing has only gotten better in the last 15 years, and his control, especially in his high range and falsetto, is very impressive.
I listened to this sampler album for a few days and I couldn’t get myself off of this song by the band with the really compelling name, this “Earthsuit.” And it’s fucking 2001, so I don’t have a cell phone or a laptop or anything like that. I don’t know anything about this band except for what is on this record. I check back at the Christian trinket shop and their selection is limited enough that they do not carry the album by the band. There is, however, a larger music shop in Rehoboth (nope, not anymore) that stocked a wide variety of music. Lo and behold, the Earthsuit debut album was in stock. I wore that thing until I put permanent scratches and skips in it. By the time that I began ripping my collection into iTunes, there was a one or two second skip that I couldn’t get out of my favorite song. It is still in that mp3, which I listen to from my Google Music cloud, and it’s my favorite thing. I could fix it, or get a clean copy, but that copy is MY copy.
Lots of things stand out to me about that record, and it was hugely important to me for years and years. It obviously still is — I can’t imagine not being about to spin “Schizophreniac” when I need to headbang or “Said The Sun to the Shine” when I want to close my eyes and just sway. Obviously, Willow has heard these songs quite a bit already, so she reacts to them when I put them on.
Earthsuit did not have a huge following, especially not stateside. They were probably more popular in Europe, actually. I realize now that some of the primary influences of the band are likely Talking Heads and Beastie Boys — which in the year 2000, was probably not what was popular with American youth (came back around though, trends are weird). They released another record, independently, with a new drummer Darren King, a machine of a man who added a brand new dimension to the lineup.
The group disbanded by 2003, but Paul Meany, one of the two vocalists, and Darren King began mailing demos of music back and forth to each other. Eventually they roped in Earthsuit’s bassist Roy Mitchell as well, and soon Mutemath was born.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Mutemath, one of my absolute favorite groups of the last decade.
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