Squire Jaco – progarchives.com
Perhaps it should be a crime to make music this great; it overtakes one’s life! I find that I stay up just a little too late to hear one more song again. Then another. I sit in my car in the parking lot before work to listen to the end of a disc. Then hit repeat. I sneak the album into my office and find myself listening to it instead of attending to my spreadsheets…
This latest self-titled echolyn cd is wonderful. I said it seven years ago when I reviewed their previous cd, and I’ll say it again here – this band sits at or near the very top of the progressive rock world. Each song seems so purposeful and thoughtful, both in the choice of instruments and the lyrics. They are “compositions” in the true sense of the word with a message that’s delivered lyrically and musically, with inventiveness, virtuosity and great melodies. Hey, they recorded this over the span of 5 years! (It was time for this one to come out of the oven.)
Two discs this time, though both are short enough to have fit neatly onto one. I’ll need to examine them individually more to see why they are separate – themes? tone? they just felt like it?…
The music is sometimes complex and dense in the usual echolyn style, but I also felt that many of these songs were just a little more relaxed or organic sounding? No mellotron is listed in the liner notes, but I hear something close from keyboardist Chris Buzby in a few spots. (Perhaps the string ensemble?) I’ve always loved Brett Kull’s vocals; and Ray Weston’s have not only grown on me over the years, but I do believe they’ve aged nicely, like a seasoned merlot! Both vocalists shine on this, and the harmonies are fantastic (of course). Unheralded drummer Paul Ramsey is superb again. Tom Wyatt’s tasteful and melodic bass duties are shared with Ray, and he contributes with guitar, backing vocals and some lyric writing.
echolyn albums that I was reminded of at times here were the poignancy of the EP “…And Every Blossom”, the sweeping multi-textured quality of “mei” and the sometimes more modern-sounding “The End Is Beautiful”. A string ensemble, hammered guitar strings, voices and other nuances make for a very unique experience that (as usual with echolyn) rewards repeated listening.
Every year or so I find an album that I cannot stop listening to for a few days. “echolyn” is that album this year. Thanks guys.
Squire Jaco | 5/5 | 2012-6-14
Michaell Ostrich (Progressive Rock Music Examiner):
The mark of any great band in this day and age is their willingness to, for lack of a better term, progress. To some, releasing the same album over and over again works for them. For others, the studio is itself an instrument – to hone your craft, to make sure the songs sound like the original vision that was in your head. Many times musicians have said that “if I only had more time…” than a song or an album might have sounded different.
For the members of Echolyn, this has never been more evident than in the release of their eighth full-length studio album, eponymously titled echolyn (not to be confused with their 1991 debut album of the same name). Coming off their 2005 release, The End Is Beautiful, the band found themselves in five different places leading five different lives. It would have been very easy for them to slap together the first few songs they came up with, put them on a record, and be done with it. Not so with this band. Over the past seven years, songs have been rewritten, re-recorded and revised more times than even they care to count. The results are eight tracks that might be the strongest the band has put on tape – a hearty statement given the bands’ over 20+ year history.
There is an old adage of “the whole is greater than the sum of its’ parts” and with Echolyn, each of the band’s “parts” feeds off each other to form a greater collective. Guitarist/Vocalist Brett Kull and bassist Tom Hyatt feed off drummer Paul Ramsey’s drum work, and keyboardist Chris Buzby and singer/bassist/guitarist Ray Weston feed off of the energy of the other three. It’s a dynamic that has proven itself worthy since their debut album back in 1991 – if a piece of the puzzle is missing, the band simply doesn’t function (or sound) the same.
Taking the songs on echolyn with that mindset, the album is really led from the drummer’s perspective. Ramsey is a drummers’ drummer; never doing too much, but doing exactly what the songs dictate. There was a focus on the album for Ramsey to do very little fills – let the groove and atmosphere take center stage. His drumming on echolyn is tasteful – sure, he lets loose every now and then – but his expertise on the notes he does not play at times speak louder than the notes that he chooses to play. Paul’s drumming is the catalyst for the songs on the new album, guitarist Kull has said on more than one occasion. As Ramsey himself has stated, “it takes a real man to play this stuff!”
An album that is more guitar based than in previous efforts, echolyn does not falter with the rest of the lineup. Hyatt is very underrated as a bass player and keyboardist Buzby both play more of a complimentary role but has no problem stepping out when the song calls for it.
Part of what makes any Echolyn album so worth listening to are the vocals and their harmonies. Both Kull and Weston take lead vocal duties, but it is when their vocals are together (along with others, such as keyboardist Buzby and bassist Hyatt) do the vocal sparks fly. The vocal palette, especially at the end of “Island” is finished off by Jacque Varsalona (Brett’s wife and an accomplished musician in her own right) who compliments the song fantastically (she also adds a great background vocal at the end of “Speaking In Lampblack” as well).
The songwriting and performance on echolyn push the band to new directions and new heights. Continuing “the whole is greater than the sum of its’ parts” analogy, songs like “Some Memorial” took years of revisions and rewrites to the version that it is today. Other songs, such as “When Sunday Spills” (written about Weston’s neighbors) are uncomfortable to listen to. This is not because of the song itself, but because it is a situation that you really are not supposed to hear or know about – yet you cannot turn away. Hearing Weston’s take as an outsider harkens back to his observations on other situations, both internal and external (for example, the title track of The End Is Beautiful and the final song on that album, “Misery Not Memory”.) Kull’s vocal counterpoint on “When Sunday Spills” (with a banjo and slide guitar just behind his vocal) gives the song a brief respite emotionally before the final chilling section (a chord progression brought to the table by Buzby). The album’s opening track, “Island”, wasn’t finished until the night before mixing, but its four minute “overture” is more than enough to convince people that they still know how to rock…progressively speaking.
The songs “slower” tracks, “Speaking In Lampblack” (a song inspired by the first sound ever recorded by Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville of France), “Locust to Bethlehem (a Weston-penned ditty about his experiences walking the many streets surrounding Ambler, Pennsylvania) and “Past Gravity” (a song Kull brought to the table pretty much complete in structure) counterbalance the other “up-tempo” songs. That does not diminish these tracks; in actuality, they might be the most complex ones of the album (despite ones’ first glance to think the contrary).
Lost in the sheer expansiveness of the album is the engineering, recording and mixing job, done by Kull (the first time he’s ever done it). Repeat listens allows the listener to dig deep into the nuances of the songs, picking out little snippets here and there that you may have missed the first time. This is even more prevalent when listening to the album in headphones. echolyn works on multiple levels – it sounds great in your car or home stereo, but in headphones it sounds even more incredible. Its’ those before mentioned nuances, however, that will keep you coming back to this album.
Released in June of 2012, echolyn is a mature album, completely bombastic and delicate. This is an album that could only be made by five guys with their hearts on the sleeve creating music that matters so deeply to them. As great as the band’s previous material over the past 20 years have been, echolyn is the band’s defining statement.
Johnny Marsh, Kenilworth, England (Progressive Rock Archives):
I am thrilled to be the first echolyn fan to be able to write a review on this, their latest album. For those who know the band well, you will understand that echolyn is not the most prolific outfit in terms of musical output. But, what they lack in volume, they more than make up for in terms of pure musical quality. So, given that it’s been 7 years since their previous masterworks, ‘The End Is Beautiful’, and many months (years?) of eager/painful anticipation, imagination the relief of being finally able to hear the album a week or so ago. This album, not to be confused with their first album of the same name, is a double CD (and also available in a limited vinyl release of 500 in gatefold covers) and contains 70 minutes of music across just 8 tracks.
My overall impression after the first airing (via ProgScape Radio, thanks Mike Ostrich) is that the music is easy on the ear. That’s not to imply that it’s simplistic, or poppy, but it surely contains lots of great melodies, hooks and hummable moments. No, it’s not until repeat listenings that the sheer depth, complexity and variety of the compositions really begins to shine through. Much of the album, most notably ‘Island’, ‘Some Memorial’ and ‘The Cardinal and I’ remind me strongly of their extraordinary magnum opus from 2002, ‘Mei’ with lead vocals principally from Ray Weston. Other tracks such as ‘When Sunday Spills’, ‘Locust to Bethlehem’ take me back to TEIB, whilst two tracks, ‘Past Gravity’ and ‘Speaking in Lampblack’ are of a much more gentle, pastoral nature with with lead vocals provided by Brett Kull. The remaining track, and the shortest on the album at about 3 minutes, ‘Headright’, has a more straightforward, poppy demeanour altogether, though with a smashing ending which really rocks.
I’ve now listened to ‘echolyn’ (not to confuse you, I’m referring to their 2012 opus and not the band or their 1991 debut album) about 30+ times and it just gets better and better as you discover all those layers, subtle nuances, and hidden nooks and crannies. It demonstrates beautifully the group output of a bunch of song-writers and musicians at the height of their creative powers and sums up for me their 21 year history as a band. These 8 songs have been carefully and painstakingly crafted (and I don’t use that word lightly); yes, crafted, into works of sheer and unique beauty together with the usual healthy echolyn dose of lyrical angst and nostalgia reflecting some of their real life experiences. Above all this is an echolyn album with that indefinable quality which makes them utterly original, makes them stand out from the crowd, never an imitation (pale or otherwise) of a bygone age.
My personal favourites? It’s never easy to choose, but I’d select the longest and opening track ‘Island’ (16mins) and ‘Some Memorial’ (12mins) as being the pick of the crop … but, as ever, they are all excellent.
For me, the album is right up there with the best of echolyn’s work not quite reaching the pinnacle that was ‘Mei’ but truly worthy of 5 “windows” (see the album cover from hereonin to be known as “The Window Album”). Today is the day that my signed copy of the 2CD set (for pre-orders only) has been put in the hands of the US Postal Service to deliver to my sweaty palms in a few days time. Can’t wait to hear it in high definition and to crank up the volume on my speakers whilst my wife is away and I have the house to myself.
Thanks to Brett, Ray, Chris, Paul and Tom for making another work of sheer beauty and brilliance. Guys, you are up there with the all-time greats in my view. All you need to do now is to book those flights to Europe for a reunion beer!
Chris Laine – (echolynfan.net):
echolyn’s latest self-titled release (not to be confused with their debut album of the same title) is a culmination of over 20 years of producing beautifully complex crafted music and is their finest album to date.
Blending together the older Pre-Cowboy Poems style with the later more mature and layered approach to songcrafting – echolyn have created a gorgeous new (yet familiar) sound brimming with soaring vocals, beautiful melodies, creative and touching lyrics. Wrap all of this musical goodness in an exquisitely mixed and mastered soundstage and you have echolyn’s crowning achievement which I have nicknamed “The Window Album”.
Track 1 – “Island”: echolyn’s magnum opus on the album and has everything you’ve come to expect from echolyn: Stunning guitars…beautifully crushing keys….killer bass lines and some tasty drumming. At 16:34 it’s also the longest track on the album and kicks off the album with dynamic energy which will leave you begging for more at the end.
Track 2 – “Headright” will take you by surprise as it’s the exact opposite from the opening track. It’s a short 2:58 upbeat tune that will instantly make you start tapping your feet or perhaps drive a little faster if you’re listening on the road.
Track 3 – “Locust To Bethlehem”: One thing Ray Weston has always done with his songwriting is to bring the listener into his world in a very personal way. This track starts off with a nice little slide guitar from Brett and continues with a soulful sounding Ray taking us on a journey through his old haunt of Ambler, Pennsylvania. Beautiful strings kick in around the 2 minute mark to accent the mood and his reflective vocals perfectly and the chorus at the end is just gorgeous.
Track 4 – “Some Memorial” returns to the epic echolyn sound we heard in the 1st track and again Ray’s vocals are powerful here as are the harmonies. Some stunning guitar work by Brett and some tasty keys from Chris round out this amazing track. Paul’s drumming and Tom’s bass drive the energy and the song crescendos with the best (IMO) harmonies from the band ever and some just crushing guitars.
Track 5 – “Past Gravity” is a beautiful song and sounds more like one of Brett’s solo efforts with echolyn as supporting band and takes the listener down a musical river…drifing along to an emotional ending. Brett’s vocals are smooth and are always a great compliment to Ray’s style. echolyn unlike many bands have two gifted lead singers and they use it to great effect.
Track 6 – “When Sunday Spills” is another very personal song from Ray and tells the story of an abusive husband and his wife the victim of his abuse. The opening and ending audio of the couple screaming is simply disturbing but very important as it sets the mood for the song perfectly. More hauntingly beautful harmonies….jazzy keys…sweet slide guitar and pulsing drums/bass ending with a powerful guitar solo. One more thing that makes this such a personal track: The voices you hear of the couple were recorded by Ray – of his neighbors.
Track 7 – “Lampblack”: As hard as it for to pick out one track as “the best” from this album – Lampblack would be it. Starting out with vocal effects ala Porcupine Tree and piano – this song features Brett’s lead vocals and is quite simply the most beautful song they’ve ever written. Brett’s wife Jacque provides some nice background vocals on this track as well as contributing to the art design of the album. The last 3 1/2 minutes absolutely blew me away and were so emotionally powerful it gave me goosebumps and brought me to tears. Yes…it’s that good.
Track 8 – “The Cardinal and I” is yet another personal song from Ray and reflects his feelings about his own life after watching a Cardinal repeatedly fly into his side view mirror of his car. When I asked Ray about this song he told me (paraphrasing) ” After watching this bird beat his head into the mirror over and over it reminded me of how it feels for me to go to work sometimes” The song also reflects some of Ray’s musical tastes which tend to be darker/sinister and Chris’ keys are equally sinister. Great way to end the album!
Truly a masterpiece which will open up upon repeat listens – echolyn have given us a gift which will be cherished by fans and will draw many many more new fans to them with this very accessible release. Available as a 2 cd set and limited edition numbered 180 gram vinyl (500 copies)
Official release date is June 19th, 2012