the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Echobelly
eclectic reviews and opinions
"Great Things" (Part I and II)
"King of the Kerb" (Part I and II)
"Great Things" from the album On, is on my top 5 list for best songs of 1995, and I can't pretend great objectivity in the area of Echobelly as long as they keep mixing up the sound of vintage Smiths and vintage Blondie so successfully. Part one offers "Here comes the Scene," "God's Guest List" (a really keen tune) and "On Turn Off" a surfy-sounding instrumental. Part two recasts "On Turn Off" as "On Turn On" with like, lyrics and a vocal line, and adds "Bunty" and "One After 5AM." The latter two tunes find Echobelly in a slightlier quieter mode, a little reminiscent of Heavenly.
"King of the Kerb" is another of several strong songs to be found on On, which, to my mind, pretty much fails to exhibit the dread "sophomore slump." Part I provides a French version of "Car Fiction," in which Sonya Madan sounds more like Debbie Harry than ever, especially for those of us who remember the French version of "Sunday Girl," an acoustic version of "On Turn On," which shows suddenly reveals a startling resemblance to Nirvana's "About a Girl," and an acoustic version of "Natural Animal." Part two offers four live tracks from a New York City gig, with live versions of both of the On singles as well as two tunes from the first album, everyone's got one, "I Can't Imagine the World Without Me" and "Insomniac." The live tracks show a competent band playing reasonably tight versions of the songs without a whole lot of variation -- just a little more guitar wankery -- but a nice a sense of energy. Sonya has a wee bit of trouble with the highest notes in "Insomniac," but on the whole sings very well. Sonya, BTW, is one of the artists profiled in Liz Evan's fascinating but crummily titled book Women, Sex and Rock'n'Roll.
"Here Comes the Big Rush" (Part I and II)
I've been sitting here trying to describe the lead track from Echobelly's new single, and everytime I try, it sounds like I should like it better than I do. The verses are tense and edgy, with Sonya Madan clipped and nasty on little spoken word intervals. There's a percussive guitar pattern (reminds me of Andy Summers' work with the police circa Regatta de Blanc, only faster) over which scrapes of guitar noise periodically drift. It kicks into a big sweeping, powerchorded chorus, but somehow it's not quite big enough, or maybe Madan and (guitarist) Glenn Johansson's usually solid sense of melody is overpowered by all the sonic density. Whatever, it works awfully hard, but still leaves me a little cold.
On the other hand, the two b-sides for part 1 of the single, "Tesh" and the quick'n'snappy "Mouth Almighty" are both gems. It's sort of interesting; there was a time when I found it difficult to think of Echobelly without thinking of how much Madan's phrasing reminded me of Smith's era Morrissey and her range of Blondie's Debbie Harry. The chiming guitars which drove the songs and the pop sensibility was pretty reminiscent of the Smiths and Blondie, too. Echobelly still sound like Echobelly to me, but are no longer overshadowed by the same references. That may be partly due to a slightly heavier guitar sound. I also don't know how to communicate what makes the band special to me either. At some level, it's nothing you haven't heard before -- mid tempo guitar rock, verses, choruses, the occassional rave up. It's not just the way Madan's voice soars above it all that makes it stand out from the herd, not just the reasonably energetic performance, but it's not something easy for me to define. Part of it is the way the vocal delivery and instrumental performance evoke a definite mood for me even when I've no clue what the hell she's singing about. But that's not the whole story either.
Regardless, these two tracks renew my impatience to get my hands on a copy of the band's third record, Lustra, which ain't made it to these shores yet.
From my perspective, the second part of the single illustrates one of the less desirable consequences of buying expensive imported singles over the internet. (In fairness to CD Now, they certainly have enough information displayed that I ought to have known better.) Anyway, the additional tracks are all remixes of "Here Comes the Big Rush," two with vocals and two dub mixes, one apiece by Dave Angel and by Midfield General. Neither uses much of anything but some of the vocal from the original mix. It may be a terrible bias that I have, but the dub tracks sound like listening to a drum machine for five or six minutes, and Madan's voice warbling over the top of it in typically cut-up and fragmentary fashion isn't nearly enough to make it sound interesting to me. (The Midfield General mix has a little more stuff going on than the other one, but it's a difference of degree, not of magnitude.)
Usually I try to look at records within their context, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm totally unqualified to review club mixes -- I'm only mentioning it this time because it doesn't seem like these tracks would be all that likely to appeal to anyone else who's a fan of a guitar-pop band like Echobelly either. I was sort of hoping to hear something along the lines of a trip-hop Echobelly remix, but that ain't what's on offer.
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