City Of Echoes
posted on 5/2007 By:
Pelican’s 2005 masterpiece The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw was easily one of the best releases of that year in my book. While I was already familiar with the band and liked what I had heard from them in the past, it was that album that really elevated this instrumental outfit into my favorites list. The incredible depth and diversity of feelings and emotions that The Fire managed to convey without vocalization was what really made it so special for me, so when early word on City Of Echoes indicated that Pelican were going for a more streamlined rock approach and drifting away from their post-metal roots, I was a little worried. I was especially surprised when the track times surfaced--eight songs in under forty-three minutes? Even before I had heard the album I was skeptical that the same excellence that was achieved on their previous works could be attained in such a brief amount of time, and to a certain extent I was right. While still a very good album in most respects, City Of Echoes is a definite letdown compared to Pelican’s two excellent prior full-length efforts.
Interestingly enough, this is not a disappointment for the reasons you might think off the bat. It's not necessarily the short length of the album that holds it back, or the continued absence of a vocalist. It's that some of the songwriting here just isn’t very good. Tracks like “Bliss In Concrete” and “A Delicate Sense Of Balance” seem less like cohesive compositions and more like a bunch of random riffs and melodies strung together, the former almost sounding like it's trying to rekindle the crushing doom atmosphere of the band‘s old days, but instead coming off as trite and even a little silly. A lot of the dynamics and the sense of gradual evolution that made Pelican so special are disappointedly absent on the weaker songs and it makes them seem quite dry and boring, and many of the riffs in these tracks are either poorly-written altogether or well-written but put in the wrong place; see “Lost In The Headlights”, which despite containing some good riffs ultimately feels choppy and indecisive, closing on an indie-rock sounding passage that is unconvincing at best. And as previously stated, all of the songs are a lean four to seven minutes long, and while this isn’t directly a cause of some of the weaker material, I do miss the huge epic pieces of the last albums. Everything is much more low-key and rock based and less grandiose, and this is going to turn a lot of you off, especially those who are more fans of the group’s earlier doom-influenced material.
But don’t despair, Pelican devotees, for while City Of Echoes is indeed a disappointment in some ways, it's far from a terrible album. A lot of the magic and songwriting brilliance that made this band respected in the first place is still present, and there is plenty of good material here, if in a somewhat abbreviated form. Songs like the title track are full of uplifting and interesting passages and riffs and have that deep, spacey feel that I love about Pelican. “Spaceship Broken-Parts Needed” shows the band writing more technical, off-time riffs than we are used to hearing from the band, but they are catchy and fit together well to create a strange and peaceful atmosphere that matches the song’s title perfectly. “Dead Between The Walls” is another of the doomier cuts but avoids feeling sterile, thanks to its smooth flow and breathtaking crescendo. When the song is ending and you hear that beautiful clean picking echoing off of the huge resounding riff you just want to stand and applaud. “Far From Fields” finishes in a similarly spectacular fashion, starting its climax halfway through and gradually building layer upon layer until finally reaching its tremendous conclusion. These are classic Pelican moments that remind you that this is still a talented band with plenty of gas in the tank. Production is excellent throughout City Of Echoes and the musicianship of the band members has never been stronger, with drumming extraordinaire Larry Herweg (also in Lair of the Minotaur) in particular putting on a great performance, adding interesting fills when you wouldn’t expect and keeping the tempo varied and engaging.
This is definitely a step sideways for Pelican in terms of living up to their back-catalogue, but with that said this is still a quality album on its own, with a few poor songs holding it back. I have to admit that I hold anything this band releases to a very high standard, and had this been by some no-name group I’d never heard of, I would have been much more impressed. As it stands, City Of Echoes is a good album from a band I have come to expect nothing but greatness from, and while I am far from condemning this release, I do hope the next effort will be more focused and expansive. Fans should definitely hear this for themselves, but interested newbies should start with one of the other two full-lengths.
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