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Echolyn - Mei CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.13 | 329 ratings

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5 stars How's your attention span these days? Can you focus on one thing only for fifty minutes? That's what you'll have to do to make it through MEI, the 2002 single-track epic from American nouveau proggers Echolyn.

For my money, Echolyn are one of the very few contemporary prog bands who manage to recall the music's glory days without being overly derivative. When I listen to them, I don't find myself thinking "I've heard all this before" ? something I can't say of many newer acts. Echolyn continually pull off the difficult balancing act of recapturing the exuberant, inventive spirit of past masters like Gentle Giant (their most obvious antecedent), while yet making music which is fresh, engaging and original. MEI is no exception.

MEI is a modern-day wonder -- as much sheer achievement as it is great music. How many other bands today have the audacity and courage to attempt a single-track album, and the talent to pull off the venture so compellingly? Not very many! MEI can be viewed as a kind of new millennium counterpart to Jethro Tull's classic THICK AS A BRICK. As with Tull's renowned epic, MEI travels through many musical and lyrical moods and themes, while yet coming across as a single, unified piece -- no mean feat.

There's a surplus of substance here, a lot to absorb. This is "difficult" music in the best sense of the term, in that it requires much of the listener. One must dedicate nearly fifty minutes to a continuous piece of music, but for the listener able to allot the time and attention MEI needs -- and deserves -- the rewards are ample. Echolyn could easily have played things safe, and delivered MEI as a "normal" album of multiple songs. That they didn't follow the "obvious" path says a lot about them as uncompromising, original artists willing to take risks and ply their own course in a time of cookie-cutter conformity and fake, industry-created acts. It also says a lot about MEI as a viable, fully-realized single work.

Musically, MEI may well be Echolyn's finest hour (or near-hour). The vocals have never sounded better, more impassioned or more expressive. Tasty guitars and keyboards --with lots of nice crunchy organ -- dominate the sound. This baby flat-out rocks.

The lyrics, meanwhile, are perhaps the band's most incisive, hard hitting and relevant yet. They reflect a broad and mature emotional palette, going from yearning, to bitter anger, to hope as they journey through no less vast and complex a subject than America today, and the individual's place within it.

MEI is something you experience in a different way. Because of its commitment-demanding one-track nature, it is not for casual listening -- likely it won't find its way onto your CD player as often as it might, had it been a multi-track album. That's understandable. Therefore, one could easily ask "should Echolyn have done this?" Yet that's a moot question. The point is, they have done it, and they've fully, utterly, resoundingly succeeded with it.

In all, MEI is a triumph of an unfettered, far-reaching vision married with the sheer artistry and force of will necessary to realize that vision in all its uncompromised, sprawling glory. Great prog is still being made, and Echolyn deliver it in spades here. I can only give MEI the full five stars, and thus dub it a modern "masterpiece of progressive rock." Brilliant!

Peter | 5/5 |


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