Album Review

Dylan Carlson – “Conquistador” [EP] [Album Review]

Dylan Carlson’s first solo album after 30 years in pioneers Earth, Conquistador, is steeped in the western mythologies of the Americas. Cinematic, ambient, droning and achingly beautiful guitar playing awaits.



Thirty years is a long time in the music industry. For Dylan Carlson, it’s just about the right duration to release his first record under his own name. Since the late 1980s, Carlson has produced and influenced some of the most vital music to burst from the shores of the United States. From creating sound collages with his roommate, Kurt Cobain, to inspiring Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson to form Sunn O))), his clout can be sensed any time a musician summons waves of thick drones from a shaking amplifier. His work with Earth has produced seminal, genre-defining moments, such as the minimalist drone of Earth 2 and the experimental folk instrumentals of The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull but only now does the evolution of tone and song structure seem to coalesce into something mythically personal. That something is Conquistador.

Conquistador is steeped in the western mythologies of the Americas. It is loaded with implied imagery of vast plains, fetid meat, and lone feral canines. It gives an American bent to the dusty golden glint of Jodorowsky’s psychedelic western. It also seems tied to the land on which Herzog’s Aguirre spiralled out of control. This is grounded in the world of explorers and prospectors. If this record feels grand and cinematic with its approach to wordless storytelling, it is no mistake – the film influence is palpable. It is interlaced with Aronofsky’s unfairly maligned The Fountain, with Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and, inevitably, with the seemingly unfilmable Cormac McCarthy novel that has so inspired Carlson’s work with Earth – Blood Meridian.

Whether or not you think our word is gospel, we encourage you to hear the album here.

This album feels familiar. Bright, soothing and weighty with both sway and expectation. It is the evolution of porch strumming, while the sun galvanises shadows with its sinking rays. Carlson and his guitar are now so succinctly entwined that a volley of hammer-ons and pull-offs feels like a structured narrative. Notes are left to hang and drone here and there are quick pull backs and reveals over there. His grizzled character continues along a journey of ambient Americana. Each permutation, evolution, and new layer fills in detail and nuance to a colourful tale of life’s weary survival: sometimes blue, often gold.

There is pinched pain as fingers climb higher on the fret board whilst an eternally deep resonance sews this all together. The face of Holly Carlson (wife of Dylan and esteemed in her own right as a dancer, menstrual blood artist, and model) graces the album cover, and she herself makes a percussive appearance on the second track. As does Emma Ruth Rundle, whose baritone guitar pitches in providing a counter point that compliments, mimics, and expands upon Carlson’s initial thought line. There is a brazen bite to the pick strokes. Notes dangle just long enough that the next downwards strum feels loaded with intent. Intent for what? Travel? Exploration? Subjugation? Those early journeymen weren’t without sin in a wild and unwelcoming land. To proceed with arrogance was to fall. And falling here did not mean picking yourself up with red cheeks and a sheepish grin. Few survived getting dropped.

“Scorpions In Their Mouths” is where the Earth man’s gift for wrangling a sense of heartbreaking emotional resonance from six strings really does shine. Swollen with a tone thicker than molten molasses, Carlson raises an overdriven drone that calls to mind burning fields of oil on a moonless night. There is loss and rage within this deceptively simple riff. Coupled with a marauding fuzzed-out crackle that persists throughout, we find a resilience and determination that echoes the strung perseverance of this album’s central theme.

Missed the full album stream above? Check out the single “Scorpions In Their Mouths”.

If “Scorpions In Their Mouths” is the end of the second act’s disillusionment, complete with a hampered and destructive fall out with previous promise giving way to forlorn submission, then “Reaching The Gulf” is a brave march towards hopeful new worlds, leaving barren, blood-spattered, wasteland behind. Sweeps of percussive jangles welcome a new dawn as, once again, stretching rays creep across guitar strings warmed by the sunrise. It is contemplative and measured with all that has gone before. Striding confidently towards a future that is not devoid of melancholy, but earned from its bitter sweet kiss. It blinks against the light with a wry grin born from a world-popping weight.

Conquistador Track Listing:

01. Conquistador
02. When The Horses Were Shorn Of Their Hooves
03. And Then The Crows Descended
04. Scorpions In Their Mouths
05. Reaching The Gulf

Run Time: 33 minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2018


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