Ex-Easter Island Head are a group of musicians from Liverpool who take guitar playing to an illogical extreme. The title of their second album gives away their trick; playing guitars with mallets. It may not sound like a totally revolutionary idea but the thought and musicality evident in Mallet Guitars Two/Music For Moai Hava means that envelopes are constantly, subtly being pushed. The most obvious reference point for most people will probably be Steve Reich, specifically Music For 18 Musicians. A similar percussive aesthetic is central to Mallet Guitars Two, where consistent rhythmic modulation is used to keep structures moving along briskly.
The first half of the record is split into four short movements. The first is an ambient wash, introducing the textures that dominate the record; the droning of electric strings, the sound of mallet on wood and a slide along the neck. The second kicks off with the rhythmic playing, building and swelling based on various interlocking patterns and a pulsating drive is created out of the droning chordal bed. The third and fourth movements are more ambient in nature as cymbal washes fill out the negative space and the percussive guitar work is more subtle, resonating with swirling emotion rather than driving forward with clear strikes. Bell sounds trigger new rhythmic patterns every few bars and the shock of brass provides a melodic lead in the final movement.
As interesting as these four movements are, it’s in the final piece that this group really deliver on their sonic potential. Moai Hava is an actual ex-Easter Island head taken back to Europe in the 19th century and displayed in Liverpool recently. Music For Moai Hava was composed for and performed in front of this statue, a timely coincidence that lends an added sense of inspiration and purpose to the piece. Opening with clapping patterns, it slowly adds rumbling undertones and wooden percussion before falling into a silence, soon broken by metallic jangling and crashing. After this, the percussion returns for a section of intense, rolling drumming, not unlike Liars’ Drums Not Dead, without Angus. The final section of this long piece is an ambient drone that bends around a single interval, interjected with odd percussive bursts and eventually joined by distant, wordless vocals. Coming at the end of fifteen intense minutes, it feels like an emotional release; a death wail at a funeral.
Mallet Guitars Two/Music For Moai Hava is best listened to in one sitting, the first half perfectly teeing up the second, increasing the intensity and eventually driving home with that ever-present drone. Powerful and unlike anything else you’ll find, Ex-Easter Island Head continue to prove that there is life in old instruments yet. All it takes is a little imagination.