Edaan Brool and Brint Hansen’s 2015 debut, Days, was an awkward, gangly spaz of an album that cobbled together a menagerie of juvenile sounds in combinations strangely compelling. Heart is the North Carolina duo’s second album, and it finds Earthly more suave and self-assured. If the debut was pubescent, flooded with hormones and struggling with impulse control, then this is that same gawky teen five or 10 years older and starting to get kind of good in bed. It’s softer, more mature; still odd, but a whole lot sexier.
Such tracks as “Mook Love” and “Thank You” are explicitly though not grossly sexual, employing the same sort of vocal micro-samples that earned Days comparisons to cut and paste artists like Prefuse 73 and The Books. In this case the effect is more diffuse, more sensual. The samples are often fractions of a second long, giving the smallest possible hint of feminine vocalization – if not speaking or singing, simply breathing, mouths moving. “Thank You” in particular features an almost constant loop of a breathy female voice saying something that sounds like an R-rated version of the song’s title.
Aside from sex, Heart sounds more polished, alternating between head-bobbing grooves and atmospherics. Take “Rainway NC,” which features what sounds like punchy salvos from a Hammond organ reverberating off the walls of an abandoned cathedral and combines that with shifting textures that include pink noise and machine rattling. It’s three minutes of pensive but peculiar stasis sandwiched between the romantic, laidback two-steps-removed-from-2-step groove of “Mook Love” and the slightly more insistent near–dub-echo stops and starts of “Brighter” with its echoes of Art of Noise.
Thanks to this thoughtful mélange of familiar strains of electronica, Heart gives the impression that you’ve heard many of these sounds before, but never in quite this combination. The track “Seth Speaks,” for instance, is a curious mix. It starts out sounding like Pan Sonic Lite – a playfully punishing glitch-pop kick drum caught in a stutter – but quickly gives way to spring reverb synthetic “drums” (à la Pole?) and a brassy loop that practically whispers “slow jam” as it repeats, ad infinitum. Bursts and swirls of noise come and go, lending texture but never quite disturbing the mood.
“Holiday” follows a similar pattern. At barely two minutes long, it mixes seemingly disparate elements into a soothing whole. There’s a perky rhythm in snare and kick drums, indecipherable but undeniably feminine vocal samples and some utterly charming harmonic and melodic content that suggests the sort of not-quite-flute sound that might come from a Mellotron. The sound of footsteps, some markedly well-mannered crowd noise and assorted digital dither add precisely the sort of grit that helps so many of these tracks hang together.
There are other highlights, each track almost a genre unto itself. “Wind Up” sports the cartoony bounce and beguiling melodicism of YouTube darling Pogo draped in Heart’s potent sexual energy. “New Life” too has bounce but marries it instead to a slowly building soundscape of jazzy samples and an almost Steve Reichian execution. Lastly, things wind down with “Tall Tree,” three minutes of peaceful monolithic ambience.
Earthly’s sophomore effort is thoroughly listenable and more mature than most, though in refining its sound the duo sacrificed some of the eccentricity that made the debut stand out. Both albums give the impression that Brool and Hansen like to toss out whatever’s at hand just to see what sticks. Luckily for them, much of it does. But it’s easy to imagine that this could be, instead of an arrival, more of a stop on the way to something that even more successfully fuses the unbridled weirdness of Dayswith the confidence of Heart.