Echolyn continues work on their new studio album. They recently posted short video clips featuring Chris Buzby leading a string quartet through a recording session (Chris is the keyboardist; he is also a career music teacher and does many of the arrangements for the band). This is a good sign, as usually recording the session musicians is done toward the final stages of the recording process! I'm looking forward to hearing this album.
For many years Echolyn has been one of my favorite new progressive rock bands. They mix jazz, rock, and classical composition techniques in a perfect blend for my ears. I most highly recommend these three albums [links go to band's album pages where you can hear full songs! (except Mei)]:
As the World: In 1995 Echolyn actually got signed by Sony music and recorded this album while under contract. The deal went sour, as Sony decided they didn't know what to do with the band. Incredibly complex, jazzy, polyharmonic and polyrhythmic, with occasional string and woodwind sections. A perfect introduction, and a musical highlight. In 2005 the band was finally able to reissue the album themselves.
Cowboy Poems Free (2000): After the debacle with Sony, the band managed to continue with this self-released title. A stripped-down sound (although reasonably complex in a mature way) with a unique concept. This album is a genre unto itself: Americana Prog, offering historic vignettes interspersed with musical "poems." The album has recently been remastered and reissued with a marvelous new album cover.
Mei (2002): their next album featured a single 50-minute track scored for band plus string quartet and woodwinds. A bit heavier and darker than earlier albums, it depicts a drive through the country side...or it depicts passing through the trials of life...or a trial of faith. You decide.
Their most recent album, The End is Beautiful (2005), was unfortunately too dark and discouraging for me to be able to appreciate fully. Please note that my sensitivity meter is quite mild; this isn't death metal! Or even close to it. Musically it is excelent as always, hard hitting, jazzy, with a horn section added to several tracks. But I am easily affected by the music I listen to, and I get depressed if I listen to moody music, so there are many very talented bands (or specific albums by certain bands) that I don't listen to very often because of their subject matter.
I'm sure a lot has changed in the 6 years that have passed since the release of their last album. I had the privilege of meeting several of the band members at NEARfest several years ago (although they were not performing that year). They explained that the album had been an important step for them as a group in moving through life, and that writing and recording it had been cathartic. So I'm hoping that Echolyn has moved on from that stage of their development and that their newest album will not be quite as dark, thematically, as its immediate predecessor.
And to not end this post on a down note, I'll post a video from Echolyn's early years that I just found this week. It's a rough live recording of my favorite early Echolyn track: The Meaning and the Moment. Feel free to skip through the first 2 minutes of onstage banter and detuned noodling; the proper song begins right at 2:07.
See my previous post about Echolyn with additional video footage.