Writing music involves both the methodical process of arranging sounds and the emotional act of self-expression. These two approaches seem separate in philosophy, but in practice, they are reliant upon one another for music to reach its fully realized form. That idea is exemplified in Glassboro-based trio Earth on Fire’s latest LP titled “Rotten Soil,” a math rock composition that fully embraces its emotive quality – lyrically and sonically.
“Rotten Soil,” released July 15, builds upon Earth on Fire’s self-titled EP by presenting a similar sound which has the benefit of writers who are slightly more seasoned. With recording experience and a slew of live gigs under their belt, the band was ready to take on a longer album with improved musical chops and a bit more confidence.
“This time we weren’t going in blind. When we made the EP, we learned so much… even though the LP was way more work, it was definitely smoother,” said Eddie Masterson, vocalist and guitarist.
That isn’t to say that Earth on Fire didn’t run into their share of challenges. A corrupted vocal file for the title track led to a last-minute re-record. Despite having a home studio, the band was still feeling the pressure of time restraints. This was partly self-inflicted, as drummer Ryan DeCesare explained.
“We try to give ourselves deadlines so that we have something to work for,” DeCesare said.
“Just because we are doing it ourselves doesn’t mean we can dilly-dally. But there is also a balance of we don’t want to rush it,” Masterson elaborated.
Earth on Fire ground out an eight-track album that takes the listener through a landscape of swift guitar picking, bright chords, and busy rhythms. The pace and intensity of the music in “Rotten Soil” can switch up in an instant, but it doesn’t dizzy the listener. Rather, it gives each song a spontaneity that aids its digestibility. Listeners who are not privy to the inner workings of music theory may not be able to anticipate the next section, but when it hits, it does so in a satisfying way. Even if one doesn’t know what to expect, the transitions give the ears exactly what they wanted.
That is especially applicable to the opening track, “Unwanted Destiny.” The fuzzy, spaced-out intro meanders into a few beats of silence before spiraling into the erratic verse. A pre-chorus riff suddenly transports the listener to a more even-keeled chorus, as if the torment in the verse had ebbed into a somber clarity.
While musically complex, the lyrics, which deal with not living up to others’ standards, keep the song grounded. This is a phenomenon throughout “Rotten Soil,” as Earth on Fire has an ability to utilize their technical skill to create immersive moods rather than wander around aimlessly.
The process behind these tracks was a collaborative effort in which ideas for song parts were brought to the table, and trial and error determined the songs’ progressions. Most of the songs came together recently, but some such as “Unwanted Destiny” and “Wishes” already had a life as live show staples and were minimally tweaked.
“A lot of the choices were made during recording… we try to record it as we play it live, and then I’ll listen back to things and think ‘let’s add something here’ or ‘let’s strip this back’… ‘how can it sound the best that it can be with it being as complex as it is?’” said bassist Bryce Mirabella, who is responsible for the production and sequencing of the album.
There are several strong tracks on “Rotten Soil,” such as the third song, “Bleeding Kansas,” which is confrontational despite the delicate guitar licks. It is also quite brief and acts as a sonic break between “Wishes” and “Half Past Midnight.” “Running Home,” the sixth song on the record, is a hidden gem. The music simultaneously has the effect of acceleration and being held back, creating a sense of restlessness that matches the lyrical themes.
“Sometimes, we say we’re done writing [a song], but once we get to the recording process we will still add in little details… as an artist, once you finish a piece it’s hard to walk away,” DeCesare said.
Despite artistic apprehensions about the completeness of their work, Earth on Fire is satisfied with the finished product and eager to play their “Rotten Soil” material live. The band has a clear vision for their music and is conscious of how their audience can listen, mosh, or dance to their songs.
Playing shows in the local circuit is the lifeblood of Earth on Fire. Maintaining a high energy both on record and live is key to this band’s approach. On top of that, they can write straight-up hooks and that is why amidst the “cerebralness” of math rock and the skill that their genre demands from them, Earth on Fire has music that is memorable.
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