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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Echolyn

The End is Beautiful

Review by Josh Turner

After Echolyn steamrolled fans with a shockingly long and surprisingly well-written song, they are back at it again. This time, however, they opt for a more song-oriented approach. While Mei had a single epic that ate up the entire disc, The End is Beautiful breaks up the experience into eight great sections. These songs are still longer than average (they range from 5:22 to 10:12 minutes), but each piece is distinctly different from the next. While it's consistent in quality to Mei and I'd still consider that one of their all-time masterpieces, some aspects of this album are actually done much better.

They incorporate modern elements, which can be fashionably worn by all the mainstream makes and models. At the same time, they never lose their unique and unusual sound. All the while the production is more pristine than anything they've ever assembled. It even comes in packaging that features an incredibly clean design.

The album is different, but the same. It will certainly appeal to past fans. Likewise, it should expand their base to a much larger audience. Between Ebert, Roeper, and myself, Echolyn's The End is Beautiful gets three (six if it's allowed) thumbs up.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Georgia Pines
The beginning is quite unexpected from Echolyn because it's so amicable and user-friendly. My initial thought was that this was not progressive rock at all. I thought maybe it was Green Day's Tre Cool behind the drum kit when the drums initially eased on down the road. Soon after, they work in passages that sound as if they came straight out of Mei. Then, there are parts that are shockingly similar to Spock's Beard. The keyboards hit high notes that elicit Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The melodies are manufactured into cleverly-packaged cartons of Kansas, which are delivered out of state by the dozens. Within the first minute, you are overwhelmed by an onslaught of wide-ranging sounds. Within the second minute, you're awed by numerous audio amalgamations. By the third minute, you're completely blown away and that only takes you halfway through the song. It's a heavier, faster, busier, punkier, and much shorter version of Mei. For those of you who couldn't get into the length of that epic masterpiece, this song could be right up your alley. It's remarkably moving from the first notes to its last. It's also incredibly innovative. To give you an idea of how varied this song becomes at times, I also heard Wilco, Tom Brislin, Transalantic, Paatos, and even The Monkees worked in the mix. The list goes on. In the pause between the pieces, I thought to myself, "is this really Echolyn?" - and "wow, what a way to start an album."
Heavy Blue Miles
Here we take a trip with Blues Traveler. We make a stop, find a motel, and settle down for a siesta. It's not long before we're drowsing away. Pleasant dreams play through our head during the duration of our lazy slumber. In our thoughts, Chris, Thomas, Brett, Paul, and Raymond sing to us, sharing clever multi-part harmonies. Rather than a harmonica, we get calmer instrumentals. The trumpet in particular is incorporated as flawlessly as Frogg Café's Nick Lieto. For something so rocking and yet so easily reached, it's not really that far out of place. There is a lot going on in this one, yet its consistency is so smooth and seamless.
Lovesick Morning
This is a light and creamy ballad. I can't believe it's not butter. It pulls in many popular sounds. It's hard to gauge, but I hear Tears for Fears, Dave Matthews, Spock's Beard, and The Beatles. There is a trombone and other subtle instrumental arrangements pounded into this track. It's pretty laid back in the opening, but turns crazy and goes into a fit. I guess that's the outcome of obsessively lovesick feelings left unchecked. Once you get your bearings, it's a matter of time before the neurosis sinks in. It never reaches the tranquility we experienced when it began, but once the drugs take affect later in the piece, it eventually settles down. The refrain is intelligent and resourceful; however, the route this song takes crosses more bridges than choruses. It also features a female voice that sounds as if it was lifted off of voicemail. As Doug Heffernan regularly says, "What's up with that?"
Make Me Sway
This is Snow's Night Out. An unfortunate series of events lands him in a robotically-run factory and it's operating on autopilot. The moving parts click like well-oiled wind-up toys. Echolyn has taken us dead-on into the industry of the digital age. So far, this is the most electrically-engaging pieces they've ever written. Like Jonas Reingold and Tomas Bodin, the bass blossoms while the keyboard blooms. These autonomous machines are driven by flower power. It's hard to describe how this combination of Flower Kings and Nine Inch Nails actually sounds. At times it resonates like "Unfold the Future," but in the end, it lands on a ledge with a "Vampire's View."
The End is Beautiful
A terrific song is chosen as the title track. Actually, it's a crapshoot when it comes to satisfying this difficult task. Every song is excellent, but this one specifically has a chorus that's kind of unforgettable. For that reason, it may stand out from the others. Taking the same approach as "Georgia Pines," the setup leads you to believe it will go one way and then it goes another. The guitars are reminiscent of Gary Wehrkamp's (RPWL) easy touch while the bass is played with a slow and sensitive hand not too unlike Dave Meros (Spock's Beard). Overall, this number is patient, pensive, and takes it time to penetrate your skull. Eventually, the repeated lines will saturate your head. It's presented in a manner that's almost conversation between two close friends. This is great and I have no complaints, but I do have a question. Why did a song about the end come in the middle?
So Ready
It seems to be the trend these days to work sound bytes into songs. This one wastes no time in following the fad again. In the opening you can hear a disturbing recording. This is old-time Echolyn with a thicker torso and fuller waistline. If their earliest songs contended better with the lightweights, this one is ready to fight at the heavyweight class. It has rocking riffs that are sure to pummel and overwhelm. The high hat clacks like a ring full of keys. They continue to combine dissimilar compounds. This time they merge Platypus with Pain of Salvation. It regurgitates, spits out, and recycles an alloy that it twice as nice and doubly durable as their originals.
The Arc of Decen
The piano climbs in and out while the other instruments provide bliss to the song's remaining bulk. The songwriting continues to be impressive and this is some of their best singing. Complex melodies and harmonies come together with hardly any affliction.
Misery, Not Memory
They pick up the beat in this last piece. It brings together ragtime, rock, blues, and even a little bit of bluegrass. It's a lush edition of Huey Lewis and The News, a mellow mock-up of Mike and The Mechanics, and a bag full of barley from Hall and Oates. Again, we get another one of the passages from Mei. This time, it's one of the mushier parts and it's softer than a string of marshmallows. They work in several sound bytes in a series kind of like The Flower King's did on Space Revolver. When it seems like the song has come to its conclusion, we get a couple more minutes of their magnificently put together melodies. Echolyn gave us more than we deserved with this album. They could have easily taken their best material and spread it over several releases. Rather than fill it with fluff, they give us this substantially hearty meal. Don't miss out on this grand feast! Yes, Mei is good-looking, but this album from start, middle, to the end is beautiful.
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