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Echolyn - The End Is Beautiful CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 233 ratings

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4 stars I have only just discovered Echolyn in the last month in spite of them having been in existence for 20 years. What's more, so far I have only heard this album and I write this without reference to any of their other work. In some regards, it seems unnecessary to do so. This album is so good, to my ears, that it stands perfectly well on its own as a classic of 21st Century progressive music - as young as our century may be.

The eight tracks comprising this work offer as good an hour of listening as anything I have heard in recent years, that's how impressed I am. Moreover, each track has a distinct identity, or individuality if you will. None of them overstays their welcome, the longest clocking in at just over 10 minutes. Not that I'm averse to the long-form song you understand, rather, what Echolyn do here is let each track breath sufficiently to assert its personality and uniqueness before moving on to another character in the set thereby sustaining your interest and anticipation. In this sense, 'The End Is Beautiful' has a dramatic structure and unfolds its narrative musically and lyrically without ever approaching anything yuo might term a 'concept'. The songs seem to concern themselves with some pretty murky corners of existence: Loneliness, loss, despair, doomed relationships, addiction (largely it would appear to love), love won and love lost, sorrow and isolation. However, there's nothing in the music that reflects this by being morose or melancholic, quite the opposite really. Musically, Echolyn present us with an optimistic sound merely tinged with sadness in places. The songs are as full of energy and beauty as they are about life's unpleasant challenges. One lyric, from the closing track 'Misery Not Memory' exemplifies this ideally for me:

Wake like a Quaker Full of promise I'm afraid I'll kill again Chose the life that's poisoned me Leave it all to misery Leave it all to misery Can't deny That I belong to misery

The album opens with Georgia Pine, bursting in with a drum break which almost feels like it is going to become 'Stargazer' from Rainbow Rising before quickly finding its feet and galloping along to the wonderful 'I'm gonna get high as a Georgia Pine' chorus - all hammond organ, handclaps and harmonies. But this belies the song's menacing underbelly. It's kind of, 'look at as all getting along merrily but underneath we're a skulking hoard of hate and regret'. Having got the blood moving, 'Heavy Blue Miles' continues to hurl us along on a wave of rich and swelling measures into a delicate piano-led verse that repeatedly threatens danger before developing into a genre-bending mid-section that defies description. Superb. What I will say about these two openers, and this is characteristic of the whole album, is the intricacy of the arrangements is startlingly good. The level of detail in every aspect of the production is staggering. Moreover, both opening tracks are given a further dimension in the form of some fantastic brass arrangements by Chris Buzby played by Mark Gallagher (Alto & Baritone sax), Eric Aplet (Trumpet) and Phil Kaufman (Trombone).

'Lovesick Morning' is the longest track on the album and takes us into stiller, deeper waters. The chorus here is gorgeous and a standout moment in another rich, complex tapestry of sound that the band create with more wonderful horn accompaniment. I'd like to make mention of drummer, Paul Ramsey. His kit work is extraordinary varying from subtle phrasing to hold the beat down, keeping the root rhythm clear and interesting to giant, clattering accents and fills which compliment the variety in the arrangements perfectly. I think this true of the whole work to be fair, the musicianship is of the very highest order and the band accomplish that balance between individual virtuosity and collective coherence with panache.

Ray Weston (for i assume it is him) gets his chance to shine vocally on the angry 'Make Me Sway', bellowing his guts out through a rolling and jabbing pugilist of a number. The title track follows and is in total contrast to everything so far being led along by Tom Hyatt's funky little bass figures that resolve into some sonically taut sections that sound like The Doobie Brothers enduring colonic irrigation. For me the most challenging piece on the album. More funky bass and almost Motown-like Clavinet excursions in the next track, 'So Ready'. 'Arc of Descent' follows and is something of a keynote number for the album's themes and styles being an unnerving mix of acoustic and electric passages about a man alone contemplating taking his own life in a motel room. Final track, 'Misery, Not Memory' takes all of the elements of the album so far and wraps them in an uptempo, accessible, foot-tapping sort of groove driven by more of Buzby's hammond playing until dropping breathlessly into an ethereal whirl of sounds before reprising the refrain and hurtling into its final measures. Something haunting remains as the message of this song seeps through beyond its closing notes. Something to do with life's transience and the wreckage of substance misuse. Deep.

Deep, but never 'up itself' (unlike your reviewer) this is a fine, fine album. American purveyors of progressive music are, as a general rule, not as pervasive as we Europeans (for I am one). Perhaps there's something lacking in their history and culture; not enough pixies and elves and trolls to engage their imaginations and fears as children. Because, by and large, I can count on one hand the American bands who genuinely write such accomplished, involved, delicate, complex music as this. Without a doubt, The End Is Beautiful put Echolyn right up there with the very best of European progsters but have a clear identity, flavour, and style all of their own. This may be the only album i have heard by them but it is a certainty that I shall be acquiring more. if you haven't tried them, I wholeheartedly recommend that you do so and start with this.

Makntak | 4/5 |


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