(All Album Reviews by echolynfan)
It's safe to say that my anticipation for The End Is Beautiful was off the charts - mainly because of my curiosity to see what Echolyn would be like now with (bassist) Tom Hyatt back after these many years (and other influences) post-As The World (ATW).
This is simply the best of Echolyn - a "gumbo" - the best of everything they've accomplished thus far: TEIB has the quirky, complex jazziness of ATW - dark moody lyrics and stellar musicianship of mei, awesome vocal harmonies and emotion of Cowboy Poems Free with some flavoring of (guitarist) Brett Kull & (singer) Ray Weston's solo efforts.
Newly added to the mix is a new funk driven pulse-pounding energy that just blows me away. Chris Buzby's keys have soared to new heights as have Ray's vocals. Brett's guitar playing has always impressed me (I'm partial to guitar since I play a little) but TEIB has surpassed everything he's done before!
Tom and Paul (Ramsey- drums): you guys belong playing along side of each other - period! I was so happy to hear that bass/drum dynamic again! Paul's drumming hit new heights and Tom - my favorite bass player used to be John Entwistle (I stood just a few feet away from him at a "Who" concert in 1984) before you came along......
The horns were an excellent touch and really added a "richness" to the mix. Congrats to Chris for a fantastic job arranging and to Mark, Eric and Phil for the brass! It took about three good listens to pick up the rythms and harmonies - but then - bam!!! My current favorite tracks:
(1) "Heavy Blue Miles" - Hooks you in - cements itself in your brain and features Brett's vocals. I love the Buzby/Joe Jackson-flavored piano/vocal bits in-between and the horns are simply awesome. Also - best vocal harmonies since (Cowboy Poem's) "Human Lottery"! The keys at the beginning and end of the song are addicting.
(2) "The End Is Beautiful" - Great vocal harmonies and very nice slide guitar. Drums are nice and tight and (here we have) more of the warm Buzby keys.
(3) "So Ready" - What a tune! Funky and totally Stevie Wonder- Blood, Sweat & Tears charged!! Love the vocals, horns, jammin bass/drum and wow.. slide guitar!! This one shook my Durango to the other side of the street!
(4) "Misery not Memory" - I love the keys here, Chris and Ray's vocals were on fire! And again - the drum/bass thing rocks this one! Classic BK guitar (with a little Metheny mixed in) rounds this one out and prompts me to hit "repeat" repeatedly!
Is this the best Echolyn cd ever? Absolutely! It'll take some repeat listens but as usual with Echolyn - the rewards are great! TEIB has easily earned a notch on the top of my list for the best Echolyn cd to date and is an instant classic.
One final note about the lyrics: they are quite dark...even more so than with mei and I would love to hear more about what inspired them at some point.
Congrats guys and thank you!!!
The new Echolyn The End is beautiful is a far cry from the absolutely fantastic As The World which still is one of my favorite Echolyn albums! That said, they´re most certainly progressive in the truest sense of the word. As this album steers towards new areas. And YES it is brilliant! This my friend is a top notch album of the highest order!
The music is excellent as always. They still have the complexity in their arrangements and individually they deliver the goods! But...and there is a but....you have to wait till track #6 “So Ready” to get some of their trademark Gentle Giant-like vocal arrangements. And therein my dear prog friends the problem lies. We have come to expect some fine complicated vocals arrangements. Now they’re almost gone. Brett Kull & Ray Weston used to deliver the excellent lead vocals with the rest of these wonderful musicians following on superb second vocal harmonies.
And they still do, that is, deliver the vocals...but somehow its not the Echolyn of yesterday! On the other hand, this is about progressive music and as such they still are, this great US band with superb arrangements and a brilliant mind for new thinking in this musical world we adore and love! “Misery, Not Memory” is the track that comes closest to that of the former Echolyn –ideology...with traces of Gentle Giant contra-point music style.
Overall I must say that I love this album (my favorite still is As The World) for the sheer power and exuberance in fabulous ideas and musical brilliance. And oh....they dare....they dare go a step further...which is what this is all about: progression!
So if you are new to these guys, get the first one (just out in a fine new package...with bonus) then work your way up till this one! Echolyn, a fine US prog band that always deliver! If you are a true prog fan then this album should be on your want list! Yeah, I am calling your prog loyality into question! This is a killer album! Make no mistake! This one goes to prog history!
(All Album Reviews by Epilepticgibbon)
Echolyn are surely one of the biggest and best American prog rock bands currently making music. I've been a fan since their big label debut from 1995 with As The World, which I still regard to be their best album, though they've covered a lot of ground, and released three proper albums, since then.
One of the biggest problems with the band, I'd say, is that their albums aren't easy to appreciate immediately. It took several listens before I appreciated what a truly great album As The World is. Their come-back album, Cowboy Poems For Free, was somewhat more immediate but it still took me a while to appreciate the more subtle nuances, and their last album, 2002's Mei, was particularly demanding, containing as it did one single track lasting nearly 50 minutes. It wasn't necessarily their most complex album but it's not often that I have a timeslot or the attention span for one 50 minute track. Mei was by no means a bad album just not one that I listen to very often, nor an album that you can slap on whenever you have a few minutes to spare and want immediate gratification.
I was somewhat relieved when I found out that Echolyn's latest album is more conventional than it's predecessor. That doesn't mean that it's any more instantly accessible than any previous Echolyn album but at least it's divided into eight separate tracks. If it resembles any Echolyn album then it's closest to Cowboy Poems For Free in that it's much more song based and direct.
Unfortunately these may be eight of the most depressing songs the band have so far written, at least in terms of their lyrics and subject matter (“Georgia Pine” tells of a war veteran's descent into alcoholic stupor, while titles like “Lovesick Morning”, “Arc of Descent” and “Misery, Not Memory” tell you exactly what you can expect). But that's not to say that you'll be slitting your wrists to this CD – there's enough variety in the tone and style of the songs that you won't just be focusing on the negative themes they convey.
There are songs to rock out to, like the aforementioned opener “Georgia Pine”, and track four, “Make Me Sway” (one of the heaviest tracks the band have ever done), and then there's “Lovesick Morning”, certainly the most laidback and one of the most moving songs on the album. “Lovesick Morning” also has one of the album's most catchy choruses and it really stood out in my memory even after just my first few listens to the album. It's perhaps odd that this fantastic chorus is part of what is the album's longest track at just over 10 minutes.
One of the Echolyn trademarks over the years has been multi-layered vocals, reminiscent of those of Gentle Giant, and there's some evidence of that vocal style here, though perhaps less obviously than on earlier albums. Ray Weston does have a unique and powerful voice and it's perhaps more to the fore here on its own than previously, though he still gets impressive support from the other vocalists in the band, so this is still the unmistakably classic Echolyn sound.
But another slight change to that Echolyn sound, however, is the move in a vaguely funkier direction. According to information on the band's website, many of the songs were built around grooves laid down by drummer Paul Ramsey, and this has given many of the tracks a rather punchy and more rhythmic feel. But what particularly emphasises the album's funkier overtones is the addition of brass and, specifically, horn parts, written and arranged by keyboardist Chris Buzby. Echolyn have never used a horn section as part of their sound before and, prior to hearing the album, I wasn't sure how well it would work. But work it does, enriching and adding to the band's usual flavours, but without totally changing them. This vaguely funkier direction culminates in track six, “So Ready”, which has a real hint of Stevie Wonder to it… yes, Stevie Wonder, but within the context of the album it does work.
I would say that the songwriting on offer here isn't quite as consistent as I'd like it to be – there are four or five outstanding tracks (with my particular favourite being the title track), with the remaining three tracks showing signs of brilliance but perhaps lacking that subtle sheen that highlights the others. But in the album's defence, there are no weak tracks, just evidence of a band stretching themselves creatively and not quite hitting all the right buttons every time.
Of course it's difficult for any band who release an album that is generally regarded as their best and as a definitive classic of the genre, because where do they go next? For me, and many Echolyn fans, As The World was that best album, that definitive classic. The band have come close to equaling the quality of that album but have never bettered it, and that's still the case with The End Is Beautiful.
It's a great album, with some highlights as good as anything the band have done before, though for my ears it's not as strong overall as either As The World or Cowboy Poems For Free. Of course it's still early days and, as Echolyn albums tend to get better after many listens, I'm almost reluctant to write my final conclusions at this stage. But as I don't have a lot of choice I'll say that Echolyn fans are unlikely to be disappointed… it's classic Echolyn, played to perfection, but also with many inventive twists, guaranteeing the freshness we've come to expect from the band. On the other hand, it's quite a dense and multi-layered album and newcomers to Echolyn might be better off starting with the two albums I highlighted above.
Best tracks: “Georgia Pine”, “Heavy Blue Miles”, “Lovesick Morning”, “The End Is Beautiful”, “Misery, Not Memory”.
(All Album Reviews by Boceephus)
Echolyn keeps progressing, adding new twists and influences into their distinctive brand of progressive rock. The return of Tom Hyatt on bass adds flavor and a bit of funk as the rhythm section becomes more versatile and cohesive. A little popping bottom end opens the doors for the brass section that appears on a few tracks. The clavinet on “So Ready” screams of Stevie Wonder and even gives a slight taste of Superstitions. This may be their most eclectic outing yet.
It took about six full listens to unlock the complexities that at first don't sound all that tricky. Some of the tunes, on the surface, came across as simplistic and a kind of step back from the challenging compositions we've come to expect from this group. There are many multi-layered instrumental pieces that aren't audible at first due to the high production quality. I tried to follow a single instrument throughout, but got caught up in the fabulous melodies and intricate undercurrents.
“Make Me Sway” (which you can download for free from their website) rocks hard with Ray Weston putting forth some pure anger while vocalizing about being lied to. “So Ready” follows in the vein of porous relationships. “Arc of Descent (Dancing in a Motel just West of Lincoln)” finds Brett Kull singing a very disturbing suicide note with a somewhat dreamy, pretty melody that belies the message. A very dark, hopeless and sad painting of pain and despair. “Georgia Pine” uses alcohol to dull the pain of never achieving the good life, the path to glory and happiness. The punchy rhythm, Hammond melody and brass accompaniment are at odds with the harsh lyrics.
Chris Buzby really shows versatility on various keyboards, keeping the heavy subject matter buoyant with sweet instrumental punctuations. Paul Ramsey, highly underrated, drums up perfect counterpoint to the Tom Hyatt's lively bass lines. Ray Weston and Brett Kull sound very fresh and compliment each other so well vocally. Kull's guitar playing is as strong and consistently inventive as ever. Hyatt, Ramsey and Buzby also chip in with background vocals.
I can't say this is my favorite Echolyn release, but it will get heavy rotation with As the World, Cowboy Poems Free and Suffocating the Bloom. It is a grower, but should appeal to anyone who enjoys fresh, innovative progressive rock.