From iconic venues like the 40 Watt Club to band success stories like R.E.M and Widespread Panic to, more recently, the Whigs, Futurebirds and Dead Confederate – Athens, Georgia, has a rich and deeply rooted music heritage.
Adding one more notch in the local music scene’s belt is Easter Island. Founded in 2010 by brothers Ethan and Asher Payne, the band may be new, but their presence is palpable. Infusing the Southeast with their panoramic, post-rock-inspired, dream-pop sound, they have been compared to influential artists like Sigur Ros, Pedro the Lion, the National, and Explosions in the Sky. Yet, Easter Island also holds their own by pushing boundaries and delving into sonic cliffs and gullies with their lustrous guitar melodies, velveteen tones and graceful harmonies.
With Asher on keys and vocals and Ethan on guitar and vocals, the band is completed by Nathan Thompson on lead guitar, Ryan Monahan on bass and Patrick Ferguson on drums. And while the classically trained Asher (he has a master’s degree in operatic singing) and Ethan do most of the songwriting, the entire band writes their own parts, making each song a fully collaborative effort.
On Frightened, Easter Island’s recently released debut album, the swelling chords, soporific vocals and echoing melodies draw you in, and as each track builds upon the next, you find yourself swimming in a dark sea of sound. “Frightened,” the title track, encapsulates the overall theme of the album, which centers on how the members of the band feel about music, their art and where they are in their stage of life: an exciting, but unstable time, when no one knows what’s next.
When asked to describe the album, Ethan answered with a series of questions: “What am I really living for in this age that doesn’t owe me anything, that isn’t going to provide me anything? What am I actually living for? Retirement? Personal property? What are the things I’m willing to die for, fight for? Loved ones? Really good whiskey? What do I find my identity in? Those ideas and themes are all over the album, the anxiety of ‘why do I do the things I do?’ ”
But in that instability comes a birth of artistic pursuit, which shines through in each track, particularly in the coupling of “You Don’t Have A Choice” and “Independence,” where the anxiety of the times flows to a quieter place.
Ethereal and brooding yet optimistic, Frightened has an understated tone that courses throughout the album. While Athens already has an eclectic mix of sounds, Easter Island is bringing a refreshing voice to the chorus – and it will be interesting to see where their swelling sound takes them.