Earthen Sea is the recording alias of Jacob Long, a producer from New York, and Grass and Trees is his second album for Kranky records. His first, the well received An Act of Love, mixed electro beats with more abstract soundscapes. The inspiration for this one was to create simple, restrained music to contrast with the hectic city where he lives, so the music is quieter and sparser in comparison, removing most of the dance elements in favour of more ambient, thoughtful compositions.
The album opens with "Existing Closer Or Deeper In Space", a beautiful mix of throbbing percussive synthesiser and more natural (field recorded?) sounds. It's the sort of thing that most artists working in the ambient/electronica field would expand into lengthy pieces which build and build, but here Long treats it almost like a pop single, quitting whilst he's ahead at 3 minutes and 49 seconds. Whilst that ruthlessness isn't followed to such an extreme on the rest of this record, there are no epic fill-a-side-of-vinyl cuts here, everything seems to be streamlined and condensed into neat little packages. Some of these packages are stark and alienating, like the eerie "Living Space" or the rather bleak sounding "Spatial Ambiguity" (side note - I'm not sure if "Spatial Ambiguity" is a parody of pompous prog song titles). Things get more melodic on "Window, Skin and Mirror" which is one of the few moments that match the nigh-on-danceable pace of some of the tracks from his previous album..
Grass and Trees closes with "Less and Less" which, as the title suggests, is certainly minimal, made up of hand claps, repetitive rhythmic synth and the occasionally bit of dubby bass hum. Gradually the elements are jettisoned until there's less and less going on, and at the end, all we have is hand claps. It's an innocuous ending to a understated and impressive album.