A major voice in the modern progressive rock scene, Echolyn released a new album today called “I Heard You Listening.” Their first album in three years, fans of the band have been waiting on the edge of their seats for this album. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.
Let me explain myself: I’ve heard Echolyn in the past. I can’t recall which album or song it was, but I immediately recognized the vocals and overall sound of the group when listening to their latest album. Looking back, I can’t remember why the band never stuck out to me, but with such a collective racket over this album release, I felt it was my duty to give them another try. Since there is no way for me to compare “I Heard You Listening” to any of their prior albums, there’s nothing left but to delve into my experience listening to this standalone album.
From the first moments of this hour long album, I knew I was in for one very piano/keyboard-heavy album. The first two tracks “Messenger Of All’s Right” and “Warjazz” use a traditional piano sound thanks to Christopher Buzby, reminding me of dueling piano bars that I’ve been to around San Diego. The smooth-at-times-choppy-at-others-times voice of Ray Weston helps set up the scene with a vocal style similar to Roger Daltrey of The Who. The lead guitar shines in specific moments, but remains behind the shadow of the keyboards. The bass guitar is there, but it’s hard enough to pinpoint little fills here and there, let alone find the only electric guitarist in the band at the same time. The jazzy drumbeats are present throughout the album, and are refreshing, especially after listening to harder albums all week. With more attention given to the ride cymbal, “I Heard You Listening” comes across as an easy listening experience. I’m not going to lie, though. At times, I would check to see how much time was left in the song because of boredom. It’s a long album; prepare yourself before hitting the play button.
Although “I Heard You Listening” is considered a “progressive rock” album, this tag may be misleading. Hearing inspirations from key 70’s prog bands like Yes and Genesis in some of their songs (“Different Days,” “Vanishing Sun”), I am instead drawn to their songs inspired by the likes of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, or other bluesy bands. The album lacks significant time signature changes, instead focusing on solid and flowing song structures. Echolyn could be labeled post-progressive to save the confusion, considering they have joined the ranks of North Atlantic Oscillation and others that have moved beyond the stereotypical Moog synthesizer/Hammond keyboard sound. This doesn’t mean that the album lacks those same sounds, but that they are definitely not the forefront of the band. In a way, I think it helps Echolyn’s cause; without typecasting themselves, Echolyn is able to generate a sound that holds hands with both the past and present.
There are two songs that I enjoyed very much: “Empyrean Views” and “All This Time We’re Given.” The longest song off the album, “Empyrean Views” contains the most passionate vocals and guitar work on the album. The drum solo in the beginning leads to very smooth instrumentation led by guitarist Brett Kull. With plenty of ups and downs, the song is the most attention grabbing off of “I Heard You Listening.” Ironically, “All This Time We’re Given” is the second longest track on the album, but contains a different sound than the prior. Starting off as one of the more softer songs on the album, an multiple guitar solos appear about halfway into the song. This song has all the right feelings incorporated, and is one of the most emotionally driven tracks from the album.
Overall, “I Heard You Listening” is a good listen, but was nothing like I imagined. For being a progressive album, Echolyn focuses very much on the piano, which brings the overall tone down a notch. In other words, if you want to jam out to some amazing guitar and drum solos, I’d play another album instead. But if you’re looking for easy-listening, office rock, then this is the album for you. I’d recommend “I Heard You Listening” to fans of bands like Glass Hammer, Spock’s Beard, and Big Big Train. You can support Echolyn by visiting their Bandcamp page, and by following them on Facebook and Twitter. You can also explore their catalogue, considering they’ve been around for nearly twenty years. After listening to this lone album, I am more inclined to check out their prior work to compare.