Gentle Earth: Exploded

Just after Gentle Earth came out in February, a friend told me that he found the lyrics to be opaque. So inspired by one of my favourite podcasts, Song Exploder, I‘m going to break down the record track-by-track.

Stream Gentle Earth track by track below, or get the whole EP on Spotify, Apple Music, or Bandcamp.

Cloud Level

This was the first Poisonous Birds song. As soon as I finished the instrumental I knew this was the sound I’d been searching for for my next project. I got Finn on board and Poisonous Birds was born.

Inspiration comes in strange places. I wrote this around the time Tyler The Creator’s Cherry Bomb came out. I’d pre-ordered the CD from Rise. My favourite song on that record is called PILOT and has the lyric:

You can buy a car, you can buy many things
 You can buy happiness but you can’t buy wings…
…to stay cloud level

That line stuck with me — I loved the image that cloud level conveyed — vivid and serene. And it matched the mood of my new song. As a temporary starting point I based the song around those words, but in the end it felt right, so it stayed.

Our song Cloud Level takes that image further, and explores what happens if that serene moment, flirting with the terrible power of nature, turns to disaster. If you ‘pitch down, underneath’ the layer of cloud, it’s bitterly cold and turbulent.

The song closes with some food for thought. The contrast that I just described: beauty and disaster just a moment or metre apart, is everywhere. Amazing people doing great things in the worst circumstances, or fragile natural and political environments where a small event has catastrophic knock on consequences. We’re living on a knife edge. I’m trying to become more aware of that balance and live accordingly.

Brightness & dark
Grotesque & art
The Devil & God
Metres apart.

Gentle Earth

This piece doesn’t have any words — it’s pretty much just a sound for 48 seconds. I deliberately made it the title track, to draw attention away from any particular song as the main feature of the EP, and also to give purpose to this little musical moment, not as an afterthought, but as a deliberate and important part of the record.

Old Sun

Like Cloud Level, Old Sun explores a changing climate, this time from warm to too warm.

‘Old Sun, Mother. Golden, Colour’ refers the life-giving star at the centre of our solar system. The first verse comments on how its generous warmth will become carnage if we continue to abuse Earth.

Old Sun, Mother. Golden colour.
Leaves greener, until it gets hotter.
Light bring life and terrible warmth.
Gosh this weather is awfully strange.
Hide Inside.
We’ll wilt in this weather
until the thaw from the north.

I really like how I sang ‘hide inside’. I think it’s just a great moment in the song. Here’s that line and the chorus solo’d:

It’s nice to show off the pretty dense harmonies and that cool delay effect — I’m proud of this chorus and am certain that the details usually go unnoticed.

The chorus is a short commentary on how products are often designed not to fulfil new purposes or satisfy new needs, but only to generate more demand. Humanity needs solutions to forthcoming crises, not more vacuous junk to consume resources.

Design new ways to consume.
Quarry deeper I need more.
This season, we’re all going to drown
in a little water.

‘This season’ is a poke at the fashion industry’s seasonal trends. Pretty soon this season’s hot trend will be rubber dinghies to navigate the impending flood.

This chorus went through so many revisions — I think 3 or 4 totally different versions. The only line that stayed was the sneering ‘we’re all going to drown’. That was the first line that came to me for this song. It originally reminded me of an album i really loved in my teens: Underoath’s Disambiguation. That similarity’s been lost a bit through so any revisions — maybe that’s a shame.

Here’s a demo from early 2016 with the old chorus and some other bits roughed in. It was originally called Drippy Nose because I started it when I had a cold.

Verse 2 looks at the outcome of the events in Verse 1.

Deluge.
Floundering, bodies strewn.
Emulsified through the pool.
Cramping lung and limb.
Breathe in.

I cheated here. In the recording I pronounce deluge (dell-you-j) more like ‘deelooge’ to make it vaguely rhyme with ‘strewn’.

I really like the word emulsified. It captures something very specific — something (in this case…corpses…) suspended IN a fluid, rather than on top or at the bottom of.

There was originally an afterthought vocal and the very end of the song, which we ultimately scrapped. Sometimes I still throw it in live if the moment feels right. I like the idea that a recording is a snapshot of how a song was at that moment, but that it lives on and mutates as we perform it. I don’t suppose it’ll ever be covered but I like that idea too: that it might be reinterpreted by others, evolved further and performed through the lens of another artist.

I Understand But I Still Think You’re Wrong

This song wraps up the ideas presented in Cloud Level & Old Sun. It’s really simple in structure — there’s not many lyrics.

Slowly, we’re fading.
I am drowned.
Fading further into the past.
I tried to be softly.

The song feels to me like the calm after the storm. The end of a life, perhaps a species, or a civilisation. It’s a dystopian, fictitious future that could become fact within our lifetimes.

Be Softly is the name of the label and collective that we founded with some other artists close to us. I’d like to say that it was named after the lyric to this song, but that’s false. This lyric came later. What the words Be Softly represent to me is an approach, a mindset, an empathetic, warm and inclusive nature that surrounds everything we do as artists. And in this song, it represents the melancholic acceptance that despite trying to live thoughtfully, with care and respect towards the environment, we’re doomed anyway. That’s unfortunately the way I think we’re going to go.

The song is special in that it features Simon Francis on bass guitar (the only non-synthesised bass on the EP). He’s famous for playing with Ellie Goulding, amongst others and it’s really fun to have him on the record.


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