Historically, EP’s have been used as more of a taste tester and a promotional tool, than a cohesive piece of art. In the 21st century, with a vast musical landscape and a population’s shorter attention span, many songwriters have found a way to tell a story in only a handful of songs. It’s easy to forget that Joe Hawkes’s In the Ashes of the Scaled Earth is only 15 minutes long. He not only manages to pull off a credible arc but brings us into his worldview almost immediately. In just four songs, you will be taken in by his witty sense of humour, startling vulnerability and world-weary musings on an ever-changing world. Many artists are given triple the amount of time and don’t say nearly as much.
What is instantly appealing about Joe Hawkes is that he seems like an everyday bloke; almost as if he’s sitting next to you, singing in your ear as life passes by. His lyrics are relatable and unpretentious, his production values quaint and inviting and his arrangements incredibly subtle. As such, it’s easy to not realize how his scope broadens with each passing song. The opening track, “I Love You (But You’re Dead)” is a rollicking Bob Dylan-esque number about an unrequited love affair between himself and someone on his TV screen who no longer exists. It’s an insanely catchy tune that is purposely played for laughs, so as to let the listener’s guard down. Later on “Into Thin Air” his despair and lovesickness are displayed as an open wound. “I’ll get by without your love” he lies to himself as the synthesizers swell around him as if they ready to swallow him whole. It’s a devastating moment from a man who not too long ago had made us laugh at his comical plight of falling for a dead person.
The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand inspired “New Frontiers” also finds a counterpart in the sprawling “Pact of Forgetting.” “New Frontiers” is a danceable, riff-heavy rocker that you wouldn’t know is actually about the effects of gentrification. If you get the message, fine, but really it’s all about tapping your foot. “Pact of Forgetting” is WAY more transparent in that Joe seems blisteringly angry at society abilities to forget atrocities committed in the past; more specifically the wars we’ve committed and our treatment of our environment. Like “New Frontiers,” it’s a lament about change and how it isn’t always for the better. These contrasts are incredibly savvy on Joe’s part. By the end, you’ll startingly realize, that underneath the catchy hooks and clever one-liners, lies a man who is more disillusioned than he was letting on.
The DIY aesthetic of the album is also responsible for the EP’s cozy, inviting feeling, but it is also sometimes the EP’s one detriment. “Into Thin Air” and “Pact of Forgetting” are complicated songs, emotionally and instrumentally and thus, in my opinion, are deserving of a more polished and anthemic mix. Even though I like the intimacy of Joe’s voice, I find it’s a bit too high in the mix on “New Frontiers” and “Pact of Forgetting” thus, sadly, making it a little hard to make out the intricacies of the instrumentation. In the Ashes of the Scalded Earth, the biggest draw is it’s songwriting though, so these little lapses in production are completely forgivable. Besides it’s not often that an EP leaves me satisfied and not wanting more. That said, I can’t wait to see what Joe Hawkes manages to dish up, should he release another full-length album.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy