We Have “Earth Heat Sound” By First Communion Afterparty, And It Was Worth The Wait

About five years after my father died, a letter arrived from an old WWII friend of his, saying, “It’s been way too long, buddy, why don’t you write?  Is something wrong?”

We thought of this as we’ve looked over some of the past posts in Tulip Frenzy on First Communion Afterparty.  Beginning around 2009, we began to despair they would ever put out another album as good as “Sorry For All The Mondays and to Those Who Can’t Sing.” By 2010, we couldn’t understand why an outfit we believed to be, by a long shot, the best young exemplars of American neo-psychedelica — our most thrilling rock’n’roll band — were so dilatory in putting out that sophomore record. It took a while for us to learn they’d broken up.

Even though First Communion Afterparty hailed from Minneapolis, they might as well have been from Tibet, for all the news we could find out over the years.  They clearly played SXSW, and one of their videos showed them at the ocean’s edge, so we assume they made it to the West Coast.  But we could never get information about them playing much beyond the borders of Minnesota. But then in 2010 they put out the Skyline, Starlight EP, and our hopes were raised again.  It wasn’t until last summer, when we learned they were to be reconstituted long enough to play at the Bathysphere Psychefest in Minneapolis that word arrived of an actual release date for album #2.  From beyond the grave, First Communion Afterparty actually were going to put out Earth Heat Sound, the vinyl copy of which arrived last night by meth-crazed carrier pigeons who flew two straight nights to get it here.

Counter to every storyline you might expect, following the conventions of Hollywood, Earth Heat Sound is no disappointment.  It’s an astonishingly great album, showing the growth we would have expected after Sorry For All The Mondays revealed them to be the single greatest buncha hippies at work in our savage land.  What were the circumstances under which the album was recorded, and how it fits into the saga of their breakup, we do not know.  What we know is that bittersweet feeling of being grateful we have this to listen to, and even more distraught that there may never be anything again quite like it.

“Jesus Told You,” which gets things going, captures what’s so special about this band.  Layers of drums and tambourine undergird Joe Werner’s sitar-treated lead guitar, as Liam Watkins strums and sings along with Carin Barno in some Haight-Ashbury choir.  Watkins’ voice always has a punk rock weariness, but when bassist Sarah Rose and keyboard player Marie DeBris wrap their angelic tongues around Carin’s purty warbles, there’s a Mamas’n’Papas sweetness to the overall psyche effect.  That’s the band in miniature: melodic songwriting, ’60s guitar, a deep-bottomed, energetic rhythm section, and a chorus of voices singing around a campfire in Golden Gate Park during The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.  Sparks fly, timelessness rules.

“Balloons” is a reminder that underneath the dreamy vocals and the layers of guitars and keyboards, this is a band powered by Nic Grafstrom, a drummer of the Aynsley Dunbar/Bev Bevan school o’ tricks.  “Featherhead,” emanates from the Skyline, Starlight EP, but in this fresh context shows how much growth the band made between that first studio album and this.  “Field of Flowers/Spring Rites” and “Shone Brightly” are two of the songs that, via YouTube, always promised that when Earth Heat Sound was released, it would be a killer.  Included here, our more than three-year vigil for the album was time well spent.

The antecedent that constantly comes most to mind when listening to FCAP, exemplified by a song like “Sleep Away,” is the Jefferson Airplane, which prior to 1970 not only made great records, they were a fantastic live band. “Featherhead” is that rare song here that shows a contemporary influence, in this case My Bloody Valentine.  It’s the exception that proves the rule: First Communion Afterparty were/are sui generis, a band that harkens to the greatest sounds of the Summer o’ Love, while being utterly contemporary.  Admittedly, ending the album with “21AAA”, a 14-minute song, is a bit of a throwback, and yeah, we’ll listen to it about as often as we listen to Ummagumma, but still.

Well done, First Communion Afterparty.  How a band this original, this fine, this thrilling could slip away from us makes the poignancy of the departure only sweeter.

A public service announcement: to buy Earth Heat Soundgo here.  Order it in vinyl, and you’ll get a card to download it too.

2 Responses to “We Have “Earth Heat Sound” By First Communion Afterparty, And It Was Worth The Wait”

  1. […] may not be surprised by this choice, given how we raved about it, but we were.  The odds were against our saying Earth Heat Sound was the best album of 2013, […]

  2. […] retrospect, we still can’t believe how great First Communion Afterparty were, though their posthumously released Earth Heat Sound was Tulip Frenzy’s 2013 Album Of The Year.  When their first studio album Sorry For All The Mondays And To Those Who Can’t Sing came […]

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