The Tales of Earthbound is the debut album of Brisbane instrumentalist trio Earthbound. When I say instrumental, wipe away any preconceptions you have. This music is an eclectic blend of genres including jazz, electronica and rock. The album clearly has a beginning, middle and end; the three acts of any good story. And it is a story – it features one of the most interesting and clever concepts I’ve seen for a long time.
The Tales of Earthbound is an allegorical journey through the fictional land of Cleftopia. Each “area”of Cleftopia is a different style of music, but with a distinctive Earthbound flair. The element of a fantasy world allows the band to play with fluid arrangements and beats, as well as letting them use made up words like Teh Gaintzors (incidentally the original band name)! The idea should sound crazy, and it absolutely is. But it’s the kind of crazy that shares the same coin as genius. The musical talent is evident and makes the whole album cohesive, even as the band creatively explores different sounds. It’s great how some tracks merge into the next too. It reminds you that there’s a narrative at work, all part of the larger whole.
The songs manage to portray the imagery of their titles. My favourite track, ‘Electric Desert Walkers’ begins with a sweeping, reverb laden guitar, reminding me of a hazy desert mirage. The song then dives into some beautiful electric riffs and energetic drums that would not be out of place in a Legend of Zelda boss battle. Then there’s the contrasting imagery of ‘Molten Fury’ and ‘Lady in the Clouds’ which join together but could not be further apart emotionally. The album is quite a simple idea presented in a thoughtful way, which keeps you unprepared for what to expect next and makes it really fun.
For me, that’s why I really adore this EP. It takes me back to my love of fantasy themed games in my younger years – when fantasy worlds seemed much more real – and they usually featured cool instrumental music. Not that it’s solely for those who love the fantasy genre or crave deep conceptualism. There are some great standalones which are a treat for anyone’s ears, such as ‘Flight of Teh Gaintzors.’ It’s beautifully epic and structured very well indeed. It starts off eerie and calm, then builds up alongside subtle tempo changes into a hard hitting, emotional crescendo.
My only criticism is that a couple of the more chilled out tracks such as ‘Simple Bloom’ tend to be a little sparse with the ups and downs. Not to say that they aren’t enjoyable in their own right, but they seem to lack a bit of variance in places, which I think is a challenge that all instrumental groups face. But I do think that the tracks that really shine are the faster, energetic ones where the instruments get to really dance with each other. ‘Smoking Skies’ and ‘Molten Fury’ come to mind.
That leads me to another positive point: there is no orchestra in sight, this expansive range of sounds was brought together by just three musicians – guitarist John Mengede, drummer Jon Ooi, and keys player Joe Jeremiah. Joe’s solo work has amassed quite a few followers on YouTube (this is why! – check out his channel), and believe me seeing him live alongside the rest of Earthbound is quite something.
Even if like me you generally prefer vocals in your music, I urge you to have a listen to this album. You’ll appreciate it. There’s some great sounds, strong arrangements and impressive playing – not to mention some beautiful artwork of the band’s cartoon selves, ready to take on their epic journey of Cleftopia. Listen to it on Bandcamp and Soundcloud – I can guarantee you’ve heard nothing quite like it!