Electric Mud are a post-progressive duo from Germany comprising of Hagen Bretschneider and Nico Walser. I would usually attempt to give you an overview of the artist’s main sound but on this occasion I struggle as these guys refuse to be compartmentalised. Having heard of this studio-based duo and the original sounds emanating from their work, I was intrigued enough to give their 2018 album ‘The Deconstruction Of Light’ a listen. This dark offering lends itself to a heavy, distorted sound where chunky guitars riffs dominate and dissonance is prevalent – very Crimson-esque I’m sure you’ll agree. Such heavy moments are contrasted with ambient Tangerine Dream like soundscapes that are still darkly coloured but provide a different texture to relieve the more intense moments. I knew that they had a new album out this year titled ‘Quiet Days On Earth’, and expecting to hear more of what ‘The Deconstruction Of Light’ offered, I was excited to get my teeth into their new album!
‘Quiet Days On Earth’ is the perfect example of how this duo refuse to swear allegiance to a singular sound; whilst it is not a million miles away from their previous album, there is definitely a change in direction. We still have the Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno influenced soundscapes but on this album they serve a gentler, more cinematic purpose. Rather than provoking an overall dark feeling like on their previous album, ‘Quiet Days On Earth’ is all about creating a plethora of contrasting moods – some uplifting, some haunting and some just plain beautiful! It presents the listener with 15 dynamically varied pieces that often begin as delicate, subdued ideas but grow into something much more intense and climatic. The synth/keys, being the real star of the show throughout the album, contributes most in creating these calming atmospheres, helped along by delicate piano, lush strings, Gilmour-esque guitar, Hagen’s bass that grounds these vast soundscapes and many other interesting appearances. It is the subtle, barely noticeable swells, tinkles and playful melodies on these instruments, weaving in and out of each song, that makes this a highly detailed album – it requires careful and repeated listening. What really stands out for me, however, is the incredibly rich harmony; the use of extended chords and unusual chord changes keeps the music interesting and often adds such colour to these soundscapes – I can’t help but smile every time I hear an unexpected chord!
You can imagine the smile on my face then when I hear the gorgeous repeated chord progression on the strings in ‘silhouettes floating down a rain-slicked street’, preceding a most glorious, euphoric climax that would succeed in making any grown man shed a tear. Or perhaps you can envisage the huge, joyful grin on my face during ‘the loneliness of the somnambulist’ when the song suddenly becomes really static, with chords being sustained for what seems like forever and trapping the listener in a glorious wall of noise held together by a repeating heartbeat rhythm on the lower instruments. When the chord eventually changes, it is unexpected, surprising and joyously fulfilling!
For the many moments of beauty, such as these, there are also the more sinister pieces that hearken back to the duo’s previous material. In particular, ‘wading through the waters of time’ starts off ominously as a drone underscores a haunting chord progression that at times clashes with this drone and muddies the overall tonality. The second half then introduces an evil distorted guitar that reminds me of the sort of gothic sound Black Sabbath were well known for. Similarly, ‘the absence of light’ lends itself to an identical gothic sound, especially with the organ in the background. The dread-provoking piano and the uncomfortably shrill wail that crops up from time to time serve to cause some real discomfort for the listener – this piece sounds like it could be from a horror movie. ‘The space between the shadows’ fools you with its ominous opening; a very low drone underscores a mellotron melody that muddies the tonality with clashing notes. However, the entrance of a lively acoustic guitar quickly sweeps the doom and gloom away and suddenly changes the entire mood of the piece. Everything feels happier, playful and as we approach the end, a lot more uplifting than what was initially set out.
Just when you thought this album couldn’t be any more diverse, the duo incorporate some world music influences into a couple of the songs. The title track ‘quiet days on earth’ begins with a subtle nod to a flamenco style of playing on the acoustic guitars, adding a nice Spanish flavour to the album. In fact, this track features the guitar more prominently than elsewhere on the album, and I must mention the long, epic guitar solo that brings the song to a close – a really soulful and satisfying guitar solo. We then hear a more folk-inspired sound on ‘adventures in a liquid world’ with the de-tuned guitar, mandolin and percussive shakers nodding towards this country flavour. This has shown itself to be an incredibly versatile album – and there are more songs to delve into!
There is a whole lot more that can be said but I’ll let you discover its intricacies for yourself. Clocking in at 79 minutes, there isn’t one single bad minute on the album, each song a refreshing change from the last. These guys deserve a lot of credit considering the obvious amount of heart and soul that has gone into this creation – a gem in the prog world! I cannot wait to find out which path they take their music down on future releases.