Æ: Aglet Eaters

Echodrone – Five

Posted in Album, Feature, Review by R on April 12, 2015

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“This one is different.”

I don’t know what my Echodrone SPOC, Eugene Suh, was on about when he introduced Five to me with those words, helpfully hooking me up with a download of the album a month before its official release.

(I realise I’m writing this two months AFTER the official release)

The announcement that Echodrone were coming out with a new album had been the highlight of my new year, but now I watched my download of Five near completion with increasing apprehension as E’s words reverberated in my skull forcing me to confront the awful possibility…

What if it sounds nothing like them?

I’d last listened to Echodrone when they released their marvelous album of cover songs, Mixtape for Duckie, in 2013. Their version of ‘Cry Little Sister’ is still my go-to mantra whenever I’m beset by rage, angst, or any emotion at all. In these moments, it’s Meredith’s voice that I need to say to me “Thou shalt not kill.”

But that version of Echodrone no longer exists. Original drummer, Mark Tarlton, and vocalist, Meredith Gibbons, have since moved on, and their absence is probably behind Eugene’s conviction that this version of Echodrone is nothing like the last. On Five we meet Mike Funk, Jim Hrabak and Rachel Lopez.

“We found Jim through his solo project, Slack Armada,” says Eugene. “he’s really added an electronic element that we were striving to achieve on previous albums.”

He goes on: “Rachel added a new set of vocal and vocal harmony ideas. She’s very much influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees. And Mike’s drumming is just so solid – he really shaped the rhythmic backbone of Five.”

I can’t narrate the romantic trepidation with which I pulled the shrink wrap off before gingerly placing it into my hi-fidelity system and pressing play, because the only thing remotely retro about the entire experience was Winamp.

An hour later, I was typing out my response to Eugene. “Don’t take this the wrong way…” I found myself saying, “but Five sounds exactly like an Echodrone album.”

Someone more keen on picking a fight may have pulled me up for accusing them of unoriginality. Eugene, however, was stoked! “I’m blown away,” he said, “Honestly, it’s an extremely difficult genre to work in. Many shoegaze bands seem to want to rehash the past, and many fans want their favourite shoegaze bands to rehash the past. We always hope that our music comes across as a unique entry in the shoegaze arena.”

Uniqueness is all well and good, but there’s not much that emerges from a vacuum, so you have to wonder: what influences have to be fused together to create that uniquely Echodroney sound?

“It’s funny – we always start an idea based on an influence. ‘Disparate Numbers’ used to be called ‘Boards of Canada’, ‘Glacial Place’ used to be called ‘I Paddy’ cause I found a cool arpeggiator program on my iPad and built the song around it. ‘Less Than Imaginary’ used to be called ‘Vampire Weekendy’ (?!?!?!)). But I think we end up throwing all our influences into a melting pot and it always ends up sounding like Echodrone!”

Not one to ask a question without an ulterior motive I gently steer the conversation towards the more than passing resemblance I find ‘NoiseBed’ bears to a somewhat popular MBV track.

Here’s how you ask a subtle question:

So, um, did you ever listen to Andy Weatherall‘s remix of ‘Soon’?

It’s Mike Funk who responds: “I love that Andy Weatherall remix! It’s so hypnotic and groovy. Even Kevin Shields got caught up in the rave culture of the early 90s. He had that one famous quote back then: ‘The only innovation in music is in house music and rap music.’ ‘Soon’ definitely reflects that. Andy’s production is so distinct that you can’t imagine hearing classic tracks by Primal Scream and Happy Mondays heard in any other way.

“I have a funny story about playing the ‘Soon’ remix as a college radio DJ – a fellow DJ walked into the station MCR while I was on the air and spinning that 12″ single and he said, ‘Your record’s skipping.’ It wasn’t, of course, but that’s what’s great about ‘Soon’- it’s so strong in its rhythm and repetition that it’s almost euphoric but still loud and heavy.”

My cunning plan has fallen flat. I am left with no choice but to resort to open and honest dialogue. I mention the similarity between the two tracks and:

“Never even connected the two songs before, but I can hear what you’re talking about with the Soon remix! Jim was targeting a Fuck Buttons vibe with all his electronics…’Soon’ didn’t even cross our minds!”

I swear I’m not imagining it:

Moving on. I wonder about ‘Disparate Numbers’ – the synth-loaded opener with a vibe so electro, it could easily pull off being my age.

“‘Disparate Numbers’ is our first political-type song. It’s about how government and economic policies have created this huge, ever-expanding divide between the rich and the poor.  We continue to let our governments and federal reserve representatives run free, implementing policies that extract money from the poor and provide risk-free capital to the rich (their friends).  In essence, we end up ‘swinging lower, orbiting slower’ until we exist in a completely separate reality from the upper-class.

“I remember being really affected by the photos of Hong Kong’s underground city.  Within a few city blocks, you have high rise luxury apartments filled with the city’s wealthy elite (Rurik Jutting is a perfect example of that excess lifestyle) and right underneath all that wealth and excess, you have some of the poorest people living a completely different life. So the people inhabiting the underground city and the people inhabiting the high-rise apartments – they are essentially disparate numbers, completely separated by an accumulation of wealth that’s really only a series of electronic ones and zeros. Just electronic numbers in a bank account.”

It’s fan favourite ‘Octopussy’ that steals the show on Five, though, proving (again) that Echodrone know just what to do with a cover. As a band, they’ve always been capable of exhibiting a muted magnificence – a superpower they do not reveal as frequently as I’d like. The last time they let the immensity of their sound shine through was on their crushing rendition of ‘Cry Little Sister’ on Mixtape for Duckie before which they could have knocked the breath out of a sizeable percentage of the world’s population with ‘Under an Impressive Sky’ and a good sound system.

‘Octopussy’ is undoubtedly the gloriousest track on Five. It makes you wonder – does having a set format make Echodrone bolder? Looking at Mixtape for Duckie and Five, I’d hazard a ‘yes’, but this is the band that made the sonic trump card ‘Under an Impressive Sky.’ What could possibly stop them from doing it again?

See for yourself… Pick up Five from Saint Marie Records.

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One Response

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  1. Jim Payne said, on April 13, 2015 at 12:09 am

    As a proud subscriber to Saint Marie Records’ “SMR Club,” I was also treated to a (digital) copy of this new album by Echodrone before the general masses. It’s great! I love the song “Disparate Numbers” and the meaning behind it as described above.

    Ultimately, though, I think I love this part of the review the most: “Their version of ‘Cry Little Sister’ is still my go-to mantra whenever I’m beset by rage, angst, or any emotion at all. In these moments, it’s Meredith’s voice that I need to say to me ‘Thou shalt not kill.'”

    It’s always good to have a song which can help one avoid capital punishment for a crime of passion or impulse.


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