Initially surfacing as a limited-edition one-disc release in late 2000, each copy strikingly packaged between two slabs of slate, Early Man
's first major release of 2001 in an expanded two-disc format. The second disc consists of a "decomposed" version of the first, revisiting that material with an ear to more evanescent, mysterious ends, while the full release as a whole deserves note for its artwork, fusing prehistory with technology. As a whole, Early Man
is Roach's sonic portrait of a distant ancestor -- to quote his own words, "one lone wandering early man" -- and the titles of the songs, as well as their respective energies, capture elements of this figure's life. Roach's abilities to create deep, moving electronic/acoustic compositions light years from the bathos of new age banality have long been clear, but Early Man
not merely reconfirms this, it makes it paramount. The sheer depth of detail on both discs is both an audiophilic delight and an artistic triumph. The constantly evolving collage of sounds -- introducing new rhythms and sonic flow, suddenly stopping and starting when least expected, the use of echo as an instrument -- makes for fascinating listening. The title track, at nearly 30 minutes the longest individual piece on both discs, is a slow, entrancing number initially revolving around a gentle, skittering rhythm and central guitar/keyboard melody before simultaneously stripping back part of that while introducing new instruments and themes. The decomposed second disc pitches itself toward dark ambience more than once, with electronic distortion and near-empty arrangements setting the low, murky tone at many points. Past collaborator Vir Unis
adds an abstract rhythm to "Walking Upright" -- otherwise this is Roach on his own, again achieving a unique, gripping style of grace and mood in a genre too many easily dismiss.