This is my second listen to a complete Echolyn album. I own As The World (1995), but have never really enjoyed it as a complete album listening experience. It's one of those albums where I find different tracks work at different times rather than as a complete piece. As a result, I came to this new eponymous album with some hesitation, unsure of what I would get. Adding to the hesitation was the fact that it's seven years since the last Echolyn album The End Is Beautiful and for many bands, gaps like that generally presage either a complete change of direction or a desperate hanging on to what made their name in the first place.
Echolyn are widely described as being symphonic rock. That could have been true at one point, but this new album is more mainstream progressive than symphonic rock with a hard edge to some of the music that's not symphonic in the slightest. Echolyn is a double album. One of the first things I noticed when looking at the track list is that they have mixed up the lengths of the tracks to keep the listener engaged. An opening sixteen-minute track is followed immediately by a short three-minute one; then a five-minute track followed by a twelve-minute one and that's just the first disc.
I like the way Island opened up as a great rock instrumental, but then turns into a solid rock track. This track grabs you and pulls you right into the album, and unlike many long opening tracks on CDs there were no pretentious performances at all. This would have immediately put me off, but instead it set the stage for the rest of the first disc. The next two tracks are less exciting to me. Headright sounds and feels as if it has been put there for radio play and that's a shame as it doesn't reflect well on the entire album. It has an underlying pop rock feel that doesn't seem quite right sandwiched between Island and Locust To Bethlehem. The latter track is quite offbeat. There are many changes of feel throughout the track and the haunting refrain 'this town won't let me forget' stays with you long after the track has finished. Some Memorial ends the first disc and it changes the pace again. The instrumentals play counterpoint to the vocals filling the gaps between the verses with their own voice rather than just playing a passive backing track to the vocals. The lyrics deserve to be read while listening to the track as they are very powerful in their own right and reading while listening adds a whole new dimension to this track. For many bands, the lyrics are just words but Some Memorial is different.
The second disc opens with Past Gravity. It starts as an offbeat ballad that has much more an R&B feel than progressive rock. That said, in the middle it starts to remember that this isn't an album of lift music and then decides to get its power ballad going before dropping back to the opening R&B feel. To be honest, the majority of the second disc seems more laid back, not just Past Gravity. Sunday Spills is equally downbeat and so are the lyrics. In fact, all the lyrics on disc 2 seem downbeat but despite their subject matter, they stop short of outright social commentary. Instead you get the feel that you're driving around someone's life, exposed to its emotional downside on a personal level.
(Speaking In) Lampblack is another soft ballad that takes its time to really get going and just as it does, it ends. The refrain 'time has no name and regret has no meaning' felt as if this track was about to shift gear but it was just coming to an end. The album ends with The Cardinal And I which has a very offbeat instrumental opening and several changes of pace. Although it drifts into a ballad it retains enough of a beat and focus to make it a good end to the album.
So let's address the obvious question from above: is this a major change of direction or a desperate attempt to hold onto the past? Well, neither. The album flows well and is likely to appeal to multiple audiences. The first disc is more rock focussed while the second one is more about ballads than rock. For me, those three offbeat ballads in a row were just too much and I would have preferred them spread out across the entire album. The three long tracks show no sign of over-engineering or excessive solos and there's no point at which you think they've been stretched to fill the time. As someone who generally prefers the longer tracks on an album as they tell you a lot about the musicianship and composition, I always pay particular attention to them.
Overall this is a well-produced album and one that I will probably listen to again and again, but not necessarily in its entirety. I really enjoyed disc 1 and The Cardinal And I from disc 2. Sadly the other three tracks on disc 2 failed to really grab me even though I gave them plenty of listens and that's unfortunate. For those who've waited eagerly for the last seven years, this is an album to buy and enjoy.
***+ Ian Murphy (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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