Thrice completes the four-EP cycle here for their ambitious project, The Alchemy Index, which found them tackling the elements (water, fire, air and earth) and applying musical styles to them. While Volumes III & IV aren't quite as effective or accomplished as the first two EPs, Air & Earth is another polar opposite pair that finds Thrice stretching their musical boundaries and writing lush, expansive and emotional songs.
With xylophone plinks and a shuffle on the drums that lift the piece and make it saunter along, "Broken Lungs" serves as a welcome introduction to Air. However, nearly every song here really does seem to travel swiftly, and most importantly, somehow aloft. In "The Sky Is Falling," a burst of sparkling guitar twinkles among the chorus and steady and snappy handclaps propel it along at times. One can hear the wind rushing in and brushing the wind chimes in the restrained yet tense "A Song for Milly Michaelson," while "Daedalus" relies on bending guitar riffs and bases itself upon the Greek myth involving the title character and his ill-fated son Icarus -- a pretty sensible story for such an EP. With pretty atmospheres at nearly every turn, a comparison could certainly be made to the Appleseed Cast (in fact, it's funny the band names the opening track to Earth "Moving Mountains," since one's certainly tempted to draw a parallel between that band and Air), or perhaps the less overwhelming dynamic to Brand New's The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me. Closing the EP is the all-too-short and simply beautiful "Silver Wings," one of two closing sonnets on the entire package.
Earth takes the down-home folky slant, with the sound making it easy to picture the band sitting in chairs on the hardwood floor of the studio simply laying down tracks together on acoustic guitars and various auxiliary instruments (like the piano-dependent "Digging My Own Grave"). The EP often comes off like a full-band version of frontman Dustin Kensrue's 2007 solo full-length, Please Come Home, yet subsequently retains a unique nature about itself. Earth may be the least enjoyable and mesmerizing of the four EPs, but it's the most succinct and the band hide their influences much better. They also try something different, transforming Frodus' "The Earth Isn't Humming" into a countrified, slowed-down jig full of acoustics and what even sound like banjos while retaining the revolution vibe of the original; Kensrue does a damn good Nathan Burke here, too. Of course, there's also the "Come All You Weary" single with its grand, rousing chorus. The final standout is the incredibly somber and nearly bluesy sonnet closer, "Child of Dust," where the band (almost literally) bury you alive; the mic was placed in a coffin and buried like a proper funeral, so after the casket is closed, the sound of the song becomes more and more muffled as you hear the clink of the shovels dig into the dirt and rocks. It's a little abrupt, but it serves up some purely arresting and heartache-inducing moments.
For Thrice to somehow coalesce these styles on their next album, it's either going to take some serious ambition or seriously progressive and new ideas to avoid a jumbled mess. They've already proved they can strip it down to respective parts and still create effectual, moving pieces that are complete all on their own, giving a new and more concise meaning to prog-rock.
Broken Lungs [Air]
Moving Mountains [Earth]
Come All You Weary [Earth]