Flat End Of The Earth Ep
54 or 40 or Fight!
By: Eric Greenwood
Shiner's sudden, self-inflicted demise at the start of this year confused its loyal fanbase to no end. Why would a band at the height of its powers just willingly let it all die? For the band to realize its limitations and quit before things turned ugly demands respect. Thus, Shiner's legacy is guaranteed in the underground lexicon, unless its members should cave in to temptation and put together some sort of post-breakup-things-didn't-work-out-with-the-new-bands reunion tour, but with The Life And Times, Shiner guitarist/vocalist Allen Epley has absolutely no need to look back.
During Shiner's decade-long trajectory, Epley infused his songwriting with difficult time signatures and heavy, low-end riffs. The focus was on the technical precision of the musicianship as much as it was the music itself. Much of Shiner's appeal was in the fact that it could make such complicated music sound so damn catchy and look so damn easy. In The Life And Times, Epley tones down the crunch of guitars and streamlines his songwriting, focusing more on the darker aspects of his unique tonal palette. The songs are more expansive and melodic, allowing Epley to showcase his staggering lyrical ability.
The resulting six-song EP, recorded this past spring at Dave Barbe's (Sugar) studio in Atlanta, Georgia, makes a confident statement. There's a lot of weight on Epley's shoulders not only to outdo himself but also to justify the break-up of Shiner, a band that had a relatively small but fierce following, whose influence far outreaches its record sales. There's no pleasing everyone, of course, but The Flat End Of The Earth should silence any reasonable naysayers doubting Epley's decision to move on. These six songs are full of sprawling riffs, explosive, albeit, slower changes, and instantly memorable hooks.
Compared to the rest of the EP, "A Raison In The Sun" is strangely out of place, especially as an opener. Granted, it's the most aggressive rocker of the bunch with its slightly distorted vocals and jagged guitar line, but it lacks the textural breadth of sound that The Life And Times parlays so well on the other five songs. Within seconds of "Houdini" Epley has made his case. It begins with a beautifully recessive guitar line that the bass and drums join in a booming crescendo. When it reverts back to the softer dynamic, Epley's vocals take it to the next level. Epley has mastered the art of making his naturally gruff voice sound sweetly ethereal, and it floats above the den of guitars with such delicacy and ease that it sounds like another instrument.
The band hits its stride on the menacing yet gorgeous "High Scores", wherein Epley's voice rises above the cathartic throng of sweeping noise with masterful control. The changes glide into each other so effortlessly that you almost forget how hard it actually rocks. Epley is rounded out by ex-Someday I guitarist John Meredith on bass and drummer Mike Meyers of The String And Return. The musical weight is not as colossal as Shiner's, but the trio has already created a staggeringly powerful dynamic that will likely cast a wider net than did Shiner's often-tricky showmanship.
Despite the obvious focus on melody, the most distinct change in Epley's songwriting is his fascination with delicacy and the threat (as opposed to the execution) of bone-crushing power. On "Movies And Books" the chorus surges with a resigned power that only a band with a long history together would typically be able to achieve. Epley showcases his falsetto with a batch of fine lyrics, too: "and I could complicate you/in ways you can't relate to/and I could steal your halo/and keep it under my pillow." "Servo" is a latter-day Shiner song that never made it onto anything, but it suits The Life And Times' more spacious context, anyway. The title track is an epic dirge on the grandest scale. After a slow build-up, monstrous riffs emerge and climax with a majestic upsurge, wherein Epley's vocals just take over. It's so good.
With such a distinguished pedigree, it's natural to have high expectations, but post-breakup bands rarely come off with even half the esteem of their originals. So, it's such a relief to know that Epley has longevity tucked safely in his pocket. It'd be a shame for a songwriter of his caliber just to fall off the face of the earth, but this debut promises that that will not happen any time soon.