ALBUM REVIEW: Ed O’Brien makes his solo debut with ‘Earth’

“I never planned it” usually refers to eating the entire tray of banana bread in one sitting, or being sat in the pub eight pints deep on a Thursday night after only going out for a quick one. Ed O’Brien, however, proclaims he ‘never planned to make a solo record.’ After three decades and nine albums of recording and touring, the guitarist come solo-artist believed he’d expended all of his artistic potential with Radiohead. Despite the seeming accidental production of the project, Earth is a meticulously planned, genre-bending album that spent eight years in the making.

Photo Credit: Eliot Lee Hazel

Having moved to the Brazilian countryside with his family to enjoy downtime from touring, O’Brien dabbled with electronic music in a home studio. He cites the ‘eureka moment’ sparking Earth’s conception as a quick listen to Primal Scream’s Screamadelica in late 2012, and the project had been in production ever since.

Earth is in itself a journey. The album, released under the moniker EOB, embraces collaboration with producer Flood (U2, Foals, Depeche Mode) and O’Brien’s house band Nathan East (bass), Omar Hakim (drums) and multi-instrumentalist leader of The Invisible, David Okumu, each utilising their own sonic ingenuity to bring his vision to life. Honing in on ideas of rediscovery and the self, O’Brien tactfully crafts a multitude of influences musical and prosaic into a concise and coherent expedition through time and genre. The album takes sonic inspiration from every possible source, drawing on a myriad of influences; generic indie riffs, artificial electronic house, country-edged folk and glam-rock, to name a few. For an album consisting of a minimal nine tracks, O’Brien leaves no musical stone unturned. 

Opener Shangri-La succinctly eases us into the sonic adventure we’re about to endure. Written four days after Glastonbury and flitting between dizzying artificial sounds, repetitive percussion and inverted rock riffs, the track is undeniably and ecstatically reminiscent. 

Mass is just as haunting as it is dreamy; the floating folk-infused guitar and delicate, faraway vocals at the base of the track are regularly interjected by dark disorientating riffs to create a menacing paradox. At just over four minutes in length O’Brien risks slipping into the territory of tedium, but the eclecticism of the track and the album as a whole deftly pulls him back from the edge. 

Eight-minute long Olympik is a mission. Recorded on the fourth take in a hallway of the Welsh rental house O’Brien and his band used to lay down the album’s foundations in 2017, it’s synonymous with the lengthy journey of the album’s production as well as its eclecticism. The track is both minimalistic and euphoric with heavy electronic and house and funk influences and a psychedelic feel nostalgic of a time or a feeling you can’t quite put your finger on.

Closing number Cloak of the Night is the album’s most sonically straightforward track, but also perhaps its highlight. The tender ballad features vocals from Laura Marling and is a raw duet in its most primitive and intimate form. Silky acoustic guitar riffs intermingle dexterously with Marling and O’Brien’s raw and direct lyricism, providing an unexpected yet satisfying conclusion to Earth’s experimental journey. 

Despite the experimentalism of the project, covering an awful lot of ground in such a short span of time, O’Brien achieves a judicious balance between breadth and depth, refusing to compromise in being as personal as possible. Direct, vulnerable lyricism secures him very personally at the album’s core. Placing the album in the context of ‘a bigger story… a trilogy perhaps,’ EOB proclaims that ‘I’ve only really just started.’ Earth is as intimate and straight-talking as you could expect a debut solo album to be and, perhaps, the most promising solo work from the Radiohead camp so far.

★★★☆☆

Listen to ‘Earth’ here.

Follow Ed O’Brien on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify & Apple Music.

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