Earth Tongue: Portable Shrine EP

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The first band I thought of when I finished listening to Earth Tongue’s debut EP, Portable Shrine, was avant-doom giant Om. Not because the duo, from Wellington, New Zealand, mimic Om’s music at all. Or because Earth Tongue have latched onto Om’s firmamental bearing. It’s simply that Earth Tongue’s Portable Shrine thrums with the kind of mystic and mantric vibrations that Om’s releases have exhibited.

I guess you could call that momentum some kind of ceremonial cadence, or perhaps a ritual rhythm, but what really matters is that it’s a tempo and tenor that maximises Portable Shrine’s psychedelic potential.

In essence, Earth Tongue’s music is a mix of mind-melting 70s psych and steelier lo-fi rock. But there’s also a fair whack of whatever that indefinable element is that keeps fellow off-kilter NZ bands – like Log Horn Breed or Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing – sounding identifiably alt-something, yet still entirely outside genre.

The point being, sometimes music is supposed to be weird and indescribable. It keeps things magical and mysterious. But one thing for sure is that Earth Tongue’s to and fro between hazy fuzz-fuelled passages and hard-edged sonics makes perfect sense for two important reasons.

The first reason is that Earth Tongue features Gussie Larkin on guitar and vocals, and Larkin brings a lot of the eccentric creativity she’s displayed playing in outré witch rock trio Mermaidens. (Note: you should definitely track down Mermaidens’ psych-pop debut, released earlier this year.) Larkin’s voice and guitar bring abundant haunting and hypnotic elements to Portable Shrine, and those imaginative elements are intertwined with the other reason that Earth Tongue’s debut shines.

Reason two is Larkin’s partner, Ezra Simons, who bangs the drums and also contributes vocals on Portable Shrine. Simons also plays in Red Sky Blues, who released an eponymously titled debut chock-a-block with heavyweight and hallucinatory desert rock in April this year. (And you should check out that album too; Red Sky Blues is fantastic.)

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Clearly, Larkin and Simons are empathic musical collaborators. Hell, let’s just get into the transcendental rock ’n’ roll spirit and say they’re telepathic. Their fusing of psych-pop with harder rock is entirely in sync on Portable Shrine. And although the EP has only five tracks, making for about 15 minutes of music in total, that’s more than enough time to see that Larkin and Simons’ songwriting and instrumental skillsets are creatively aligned.  

Portable Shrine’s eponymous opening track sounds like a garage rock version of Ufomammut settling into a seriously mesmeric groove. Follow-up tracks, the magnificent “Deep Sea Mystery” and “Introvert Ramp”, feature a jangle of acid-fried riffs colliding with an almost ethereal version of Sleep. Otherworldly rock shapes the trance-like “Hollowing Those Caves Pt. I” – calling to mind the pagan buzz of Wellington alt-rock trio Hex. And Portable Shrine’s last track, “Hollowing Those Caves Pt. II”, brings far doomier passages of hard-psych, and even shades of tribal post-metal too.

Portable Shrine is full of enchanting sounds that’ll pluck you from this plane of existence and take you to… well, everywhere. Earth Tongue make music that weaves between melodic and jarring, with unexpected swerves resolving in a psychedelic haze. Even better, Earth Tongue embrace the “imperfections and the stranger sides of music… while writing and recording”. That works for me; I’m way more partial to raw and instinctual recordings than I am to ultra-polished performances. I can’t say I noticed any evidence of songs gone astray on Portable Shrine. But I definitely noticed that the EP feels relaxed and even ragged, in the best possible way.

It’s also great to hear songs evolving naturally and infused with primal energy. Too many bands become so wrapped up in recording their debuts that they lose sight of the liveliness and spontaneity that can lead to engrossing music.

Like all great debuts, Portable Shrine leaves you hungry for more. There’s no question that Earth Tongue’s first EP makes for a captivating listen from a band carving out a distinctive sound. Fingers crossed Earth Tongue are brewing up more music in the lab: a full-length album sounds like the perfect next step.

Before I go, let me just recommend those great debuts by Mermaidens and Red Sky Blues all over again. Hopefully they’ll also tide you over until Earth Tongue returns – which, to be honest, couldn’t be soon enough.