Visions of Symmetry
Into the Shadows– 9.5
Setting Sun and Sinking Sand– 9.4
Beautiful Imperfections– 9.5
Rising Sun (Interlude) – 9.4
Get Out of Here– 9.6
All Things Must Fall (Interlude) – 9.4
Occasional Bruises– 9.5
The Last Time– 9.4
Broken Knuckles– 9.6
Into the Shadows; Cinderella; Get Out of Here; Voices; Hurricanes; Broken Knuckles
THIS is going to be a busy one so I better…
get things kicking off. Not before I have had a look at a few things: the Edinburgh music scene; music endeavor (and ambition) – looking at the bands that have the fortitude to survive in the industry. Stating Edinburgh is a bustling climate for great music might be reduction ad absurdum– although it is something I feel myself coming back to. I find it startling that more people- critics and music lovers- do not come to Scotland’s capital for musical inspiration. London, L.A. and New York- the three biggest musical hotspots- are always going to gain favour and preference- at the expense of other, wonderful areas for musicians. The U.K. is a nation (or collection of countries) that has so much variation and diversity. Like our geography and climate: there are so many different layers and aspects; a rich, unpredictable thing. London is an evergreen, dependable place for music- my favourite city on Earth- but we should not negate other areas. I often seek-out Mancunian and Yorkshire acts: I know these areas are among the most fervent and stunning in Britain. Many people forget Scotland hosts so much tantilisng music. Even if you limited yourself to Glasgow and Edinburgh- forgetting all the other towns and cities that hold awesome artists- you can find so much wonder and gold. Edinburgh is proving to be a huge contender. If we look at the musicians who hail from here, to begin. Boards of Canada, The Incredible String Band, and Young Fathers- acts I have mentioned before when making this argument- are a trio of geniuses. Between them, we have a Mercury prize (Young Fathers) and downtempo bliss (Board of Canada’s album, Tomorrow’s Harvest, was among 2013’s greatest albums). Broken Records, Beta Band, and Josef K call Edinburgh home. You can see what diversity and mixture the city boasts: a cavalcade of brilliant, inspiring musicians. Echo Arcadia sits in the scene like the bearded, smiling chaps they are. One of the most distinguished and affable collection I have known: they are certainly (one of Edinburgh’s) finest bands. Reminding me a little of The Gothenburg Address and Board of Canada: they have a lo-fi, Shoegaze sound that blends into something rousing, symphonic and emotional. That is what I love about the guys: they do not pigeon-hole themselves; their music has such dexterity, range and heart- you would be hard-pressed to pin them down to a single sound or genre. Before I continue my point, let me tell you a bit about the band.
I have been following the guys since their earliest day. Having recently released the E.P., Into the Shadows, there is a lot of productivity and desire in the camp. Their 2014-debut, Beauty in an Average Life was among my favourite reviews from that year. The album possessed that- rare and inimitable- combination of gracefulness and potency. Songs build from sapling roots: growing and nurtured by a band simpatico; they blossomed into something wing-spreading, mature and staggering. Few artists come up with debuts as assured and complete. No loose edges and indecisions: an album that brooded and swooned; so many colours and threads went into its creation. There have been some changes in the Echo Arcadia ranks. Jenna White- who has featured prominently in their back catalogue- is no longer in the band- she is making her own material right now. This alteration has not affected the workflow and consistency. The band has retained their sound and composure: their latest L.P. is among their best and boldest work. White’s input has been valuable and hugely effective: her absence has challenged the band; they have come out fighting and inspired. Since Beauty in an Average Life, I have noted how the confidence levels have increased. The material has grown in stature and the group’s connection- the bond and understanding between them- has tightened and solidified. What we have now- with Visions of Symmetry is their finest work yet. They have managed to take the essence of their debut- and interim E.P.- and take that sound to new heights. Their survival instinct- in the face of change, upheaval, and financial strain- has been to focus on music and knuckle-down hard.
I have witnessed some serious fine bands crumble and dissipate without much warning. Maybe inter-band squabbles and egos have caused cracks- maybe something else. It is sad to see great musicians feel the pressure and call time. Quality and determination- in this modern time- is no guarantee of longevity and safety. There are so many other factors and considerations one must negate. Luckily, Echo Arcadia has weathered storms and prevailed: strong, steely and determined the boys are: who can stop them?! Most bands tend to go for the direct and unadulterated. With scant subtly and beauty: the instinct is to go for the jugular; present something attacking, fists-in-the-air, trousers-around-the-waist. The seedy, what-if-we-get-caught rush of music is one of the world’s great pleasures. I love nothing more than hearing a band really go for it: give us music that brings out the caveman- compels us all to unify in a throng of abandonment and unruliness. The trouble is this: with so many having that same idea; how can you distinguish what is good or not? In the end, you have a lot of Indie-cum-Alternative-cum again- Rock bands that all sound much-of-a-muchness. Those that challenge the zeitgeist- and dig deep into their hearts and souls- are those that win my affection. Subtlety and intelligence are not synonyms for boredom and beigness- quite the opposite, in fact. Artists that take time with their sounds- concentrating on atmosphere, emotion and depth- are a rarity, indeed. Echo Arcadia are perfectly capable of delivery a two-tonne missile to the guts: they are practically peerless when it comes to providing everyday soundtracks with that extra drop of beauty. Visions of Symmetry is an album that does what it sets out to do: grabs the listener and draws them into something personal, immersive and universal: a mass of contradictions that will not confuse- only inspire and amaze.
Into the Shadows ensures proceedings are undertaken with kick and urgency. Rampant, galloping guitar fuses with kinetic strings and burnishing electricity: the introduction gets you ready, primed and curious. Our hero is caught among “gentle declines”- that “hurt so much”- and is somewhat rattled. Risking an eternity in the shadows- as opposed to a “moment in the light”- one wonders the song’s origins. Maybe this is a reflection on musical success and exposure: the stresses and strains that can come with ambition- feeling the effects and pains of tortured days. Perhaps it is a wider assessment of love and relations: that need to keep your heart at bay; putting it on the line can lead to pain and loneliness. Whatever the origins, there is expression and soul in the vocal- Jenna White provides backing vocals here- that gets into the mind. The under-the-surface-seeking lead is hiding behind noises and keen to elude attention- the curiosity grows more and more. Echo Arcadia ensure their lead-off track is filled with tightness and mystery: they create a song that has a catchiness and depth; something revelatory and mysterious- a song you keep coming back to. Leigh Moyes’ tender burr gives every word a gravitas and conviction. Tony Dalton and Euan Mushet are a sublime guitar-and-bass combination. Between them, they create so much rhythm, discipline, and drive: giving Into the Shadows a grooviness and sense of flair. Dan Cieselski keeps the percussion rumbling and tense: Andrew Gray’s violin adds yearning romance and spine-tingling tenderness. The band is at their strongest when everything comes together: the vocals layer and the composition is at its most heated. Around a refrain of “Tell me tomorrow”; the listener will have their own interpretation and conclusion- as to what the song is about.
Cinderella begins with a more Country-sounding beginning. Aching strings and southern-fried electric guitars have certain tenderness and waltz to them. In a castle “made of marble”, the song’s fairytale heroine has an inner solitude and destruction. Her castle is crumbling and the ‘perfection’ of the tale is at odds with the reality of life. The band takes a well-trodden and familiar story and apply it to a real-life scenario. A beautiful piece of storytelling- telling the heroine not to “wait until midnight”- once more, I was thinking about love and relations. Perhaps documenting a band friend- or close associate- who should take a risk and go for it. “Cinderella moments never last”, as they attest. Moyes is at his most affected and focused here. Looking at a dishonest man- the girl is a trophy to him- there is a hopelessness and sadness throughout the track. Juxtaposing the idealism and false-reality of Cinderella: Echo Arcadia take it to street-level: a 21st-century equivalency that is imbued with relatable conflict and harshness; an updated, abridged version that is more relevant and honest. The Edinburgh band is masters when it comes to the hook-laden, singalong chorus. Cinderella has depth and wisdom to it: it boasts a heartfelt and swooning chorus; one that will get the crowds united and singing. Among the debris and deceitfulness: there is dreaminess and purity that makes the song so nuanced and stunning.
Setting Sun and Sinking Sand is among the album’s most reflective moments. Our man is searching for words and answers. Caught in the rain- and the rush of an incoming train- you get that danger and anxiety. The band are expert when it comes to metaphors and imagery: the ability to translate their inner-pain into something filmic and tangible. Inside a gorgeous, melodious vocal- one of the purest on the record- the band show what a focused, tight unit they are. No player steals the limelight: Echo Arcadia are at their peak when everyone is level and together; showing what a group they are. Caught between the setting sun and sinking sand- their equivalent of being halfway between the gutter and the stars- it is nice to hear White on the song- adding her beautiful and sweet-hued tones to the fold. A track that- hope the band don’t mind- Deacon Blue: you get touches of ‘80s Glasgow and modern-day U.S.- a wonderful blend of Pop and Country. Elements of Raintown (Deacon Blue’s debut masterwork) can be heard here. The group keeps cards close to chest, to an extent. You get images and unfolding drama: the hero is sinking and caught in a miasma; a strange purgatory that he cannot extricate himself from- the speculation and theories come thick and fast. Maybe assessing some turmoil and break-up- problems in life and obstacles faced- there is that blend of contentment and uncertainty: at every stage, one eye is focused on strength and progression; the other at lingering danger and something painful. Usually- and in lesser bands’ hands- you would get a series of muddled metaphors and lacking focus. Echo Arcadia turns Setting Sun and Sinking Sand into a well-crafted, memorable track.
Beautiful Imperfections starts with a haunted, affected piano. Solemn and punctuated: this is one of the few tracks that feature White on lead. Allowing her voice to shiver and rise- it is a heavenly, delicious sound- she is struggling with her consciousness. Unable to see the “darkness from the light”; reality is slapping her around the face. Among the beauty and etherealness of the vocal: the percussion gallops through; electronics swoon and vibrate; the bass keeps everything teasing, tight and controlled. The heroine (directed to her man) implores release and caution- to take his hands away from her. Maybe reflecting on uneven love and relationship qualms: there is a definite heartbreak and upset beneath the surface. Those entranced by White’s vocals might overlook the tumultuousness and pain in the lyrics. A tableau of tug-of-war and contrasts: it is another track that will mean different things to different listeners. The title (Beautiful Imperfections) suggests love/life that is flawed but satisfying: there are dark days but, at the end of things, there is plenty of comfort and safety. Beautiful Imperfections shows what range Echo Arcadia has. After the opening Shoegaze-via-Indie sounds; we now have something that blends U.S. Pop with classic Soul- the group never stay in a mould; they have such diversity and range in their arsenal.
Rising Sun (Interlude) is a well-timed, appropriate punctuation. After the heaviness and emotion of the previous number: we get a lovely instrumental that provides plenty of reflection and progression. As the title suggests, you get images of the sun rising: a new dawn breaking; the album reaches the end of one day- into the haziness and uncertainty of the new one. Squalling, fiery guitars have rapture and howl: a perfect representation of the breaking light; full of heat, promise, and rebirth. Whilst the guitars steal focus early on: towards the latter stages, the drums pulsate through; possessed of such energy and leadership. Being such a prominent component of the album (the percussion) comes through with strength and attack. Combined- that tense percussion and psychedelic guitar- you get contrasts, and weather; temperature and temperance- few bands are as brave (and assured) when going into instrumental territory. A needed and stunning palette cleanser: Rising Sun (Interlude) carries plenty of weight and repeatability.
Ghosts arrives next and is, by no means, transparent (ghost puns, hey!). With a little bit of Prefab Sprout at work- I can see comparisons between Paddy McAloon (Prefab Sprout’s lead) and Leigh Moyes- Ghosts has poetry and impressionistic touches: the word-picture sentiments are among the most vivid on the album; arresting and relatable to all. The band- like a young(ish) McAloon/Prefab Sprout- are full of invention and previous- delicate, beautiful songs that provide elegance and humanity. Take a gander of Steve McQueen (Prefab Sprout’s sophomore album) and Ghosts: you can hear comparisons and common threads. Aching guitars and consistent percussion- keeping the backbone tight- is augmented by multi-part vocals- White and Moyes unified and harmonious. Desolation and empty rooms pervade: deep emotions and scars are revealed; a troubled soul and sense of loss come out. When the song gets shadowy and foreboding: the vocals rise and the composition takes charge- spiked notes and spacey diversions; ensuring the track has evolution and relief. Demons are coming (for our man) among “debts that cannot be sold”. Echoes of ‘80s Post-Punk/New-Wave can be heard: to be honest, Echo Arcadia do not sound like they belong to any genre or time- they have that freedom and individuality that distinguishes them from their peers.
Get Out of Here ensures (Visions of Symmetry’s) second-half begins with bang, kick and rouse. After the emotive and spiritual predecessors: Get Out of Here deftly joins shimmering strings with rabbling percussion; a mix of romantic and street-level concrete. With the hero “crashing downwards” and crying- nobody had heard him- the time has come to fall away and disappear. Echo Arcadia is a band that trade in heavy emotions and a sense of depression. Most bands that do this- especially in the modern era- do not provide much musicianship, beauty, and hopefulness- even the darkest moments from Visions of Symmetry have hope and light. Maybe an assessment on musical or personal struggles- caught in a heartbreak haze and grip of anxiety- there is that desire to break free and flee. Inside the tales of woe and pain, there is plenty going on. Spacey electronics and elongated strings provide something curious and tantalising: the percussion and bass are consistently engaging and busy. Another song with that White-Moyes dynamic: you get one of the most personal and haunted songs on the album. Whether the duo is assessing their own relationship and love- and the way it has progressed- I am not sure. Moyes needs a place to rest- exhausted and exasperated by unfolding events- whilst White has a Siren-like grasp to her voice- something that pulls you in and does not relinquish. The band’s equivalent of When Love Breaks Down– more kids should taste Prefab Sprout (I’ll stop now!)- you have something bare-naked, honest and raw- a soul (two, including White) that have experienced upheaval and transition- they need clarity, grounding and happiness. Cavalier, adaptable songwriters- the band switch from Country vibes to stately grandeur- the songs never get too trenchant and mordant. The lush production and incredible band dynamics keep the songs from becoming too bogged and sad- Get Out of Here is one of the standouts from Visions of Symmetry.
All Things Must Fall is an obvious-origin, and needed, interlude from the band. Ensuring the listener gets relief and rest between dramas- keeping fascination high and attention primed- it is another wonderful instrumentation. A more spiked and Progressive-Rock-sounding jewel- compared to the comparative restraint of Rising Sun (Interlude) – it is a short (55 seconds) song that is an emotional parable- a transitory assessment of the album thus far.
Occasional Bruises begins with a very tender and slight opening. Building from elliptical, sparse notes- that hover in the sky light an orbiting satellite- it is a nod to Beauty in an Average Life– the band’s debut album. White takes the lead and feels “stretched so thin”- someone remembered only for their sins. Feeling angry, obscene and stressed: again, you get impressions of love and relationship cessation. In the past- whether documenting a past or current relationship- there is that need to move on and re-evaluate. A missing puzzle piece- the whole album seems like a puzzle you piece together- one empathises with the heroine. You can hear a degree of strain and tiredness come out in the vocal: someone who has been through the ringer and wants things to change. Having White as a feature- she is not part of the band anymore- you get contrast and a different perspective. Moyes’ voice has its charm and exceptionalness: White brings in new colours and possibilities in Occasional Bruises. A pin-sharp and honey-rich voice: it sounds extra-wonderful when assessing something so biting, tortured and unsure. Amidst the confessional verses, the band ramp up the energy and tension. The guitars wail and rain with power; switching to something more sparse and pure- it is a song that has a constant flow and sense of unpredictability. At the song’s end- another fine mantra from the band- you get a unification of “Take me home”. Echo Arcadia are adept at the multi-suite, blossoming song. Occasional Bruises starts with sparse notes and room; it builds its emotion and weight- ending with something choir-like and epic.
Voices is a striking, lumbering beast that takes you by surprise. The heaviest track on the album- nothing has exploded out the gates as hard- it is another turn from the Edinburgh band. Voices inside are eating the flesh- the song is full of stark and demonic images- and there is a battle inside the mind. Our hero is wrestling with a lot of pain and confusion: perhaps appropriate the composition has that unfettered, to-the-bone sound. The demons have been let in and are unruly tenants: the sort that call the name (of our man) are take up residence in his soul. Among the torment and devilment of what is happening: you get a sense of hope and fighting-against-the-tide. The band keeps the song sharp and fascinating: one of the most complete and intriguing compositions across the album. Twirling, barbed wire guitars sit with pizzicato strings; the percussion fires and lurches forward- the bass keeps everything in order and solid. Voices boasts one of the most impressive vocal turns: from both Moyes and White. Filled with emotion and personality- you discover new sides and avenues from both- it is another song that demands more time and attention- sure to be a live favourite. One of the longer songs from Visions of Symmetry: you feel it could be longer, still. Progressive-Rock guitars and spacey elements make you think of Pink Floyd: the lyrics and vocals might put you in mind of Prefab Sprout- uniting some of music’s finest from the last few decades. By the time the song ends, the listener is left exhausted and affected- it is a song that is both personal and universal. Everyone can relate (to an extent) to what is being laid down and sung.
The Last Time is, rather sadly, the “last time I’m going to depend on you”. Once more, there is regrets and anger: our hero has had enough; having to rely on someone that has not been true and loyal. Delivering the words with a definite, rhythmic wave: that line- about depending on you- has that chant-able quality. Allowing Celtic-flavoured strings to come into the mix: the song has a blend of accusation and reflection. The twin vocals- from Moyes and White- are natural bedfellows. Having worked together for years: that combination of tones finds new ways of exploiting beauty, light and brilliance. Whereas previous numbers have been in-depth, intimidated and harassed: there is a sense of looseness and breeziness to the track. Although its messages- the lack of mistrust and moving on- are hard-hitting and serious subjects- you cannot resist the vocal delivery and its warmth. The Last Time sees the band embrace the Country-cum-Celtic side more prominently. Throughout the album- and up to this point- there have been explorations into various genres. The strength of a great band is one that can experiment and still remain focus and true to themselves. Rather than stick with a stolid and inflexible sound: Echo Arcadia stretch their wings and investigate all music has to offer. The Last Time builds in intensity and is one of the album’s biggest attractions. Those electrifying and affected vocals: the huge composition: the sticks-in-your-head-for-ages melody. Everything is present and correct.
Hurricane has been released to the world. A song the band is very proud of: you can see why it has been released as a single. The tender and compelling beginning kick-starts one of the most full-bodied tracks across the album. Our hero’s voice is at its purest and most focused. Impure spirits are flying overhead: his skin is being grabbed and his heart is being tugged. Inside “Deep regrets and tidal waves”- there is no end to the hurt in Camp Arcadia- there is always the chance of improvement and redemption. Whilst the hero looks for answers and fights against dark omens: you feel the best days are still ahead. Hurricane manages to be evocative and powerful with words and control- rather than needless explosion and histrionics. The band keeps things bubbling under the surface. They are never too full-on or undercooked: just the right amount of power and emotion. The need for pain to disappear- waves eradicating the struggle- you can empathise with our lead (White features in the song, too). Assessing a Devil-like figure- who has pulled him into quicksand- images and storylines come to the fore. Inside such a meaningful and personal song- Moyes provides one of his most emotive vocals- the band treats it with dignity and respect. Percussion, once more, is a domineering force: always looking for space; crackling and keeping the backbone strong. One of those songs that defines modern-day Echo Arcadia: it brings all their strengths into one song. By the closing notes, you know how much attention and ‘self’ has gone into the song. The writing/creation process must have been a hard thing- it is a very personal and dark song. Such is the nature of the album: you can tell how much the band has sweated and worked on every number.
Broken Knuckles builds ever-upwards. Growing from faded and sapling roots: it becomes more intense and intense as the seconds elapse. The listener is given time to reflect and breathe- the song is an instrumental. It is a number where the instruments and composition take charge: create a huge amount of story and emotion without any vocal interjection. Once more, there are nods to the Beauty in an Average Life-days recordings. The floating-around-space vibe comes in hard. Nobody will be immune to the gracefulness and epic-natured strings; the scenes and ideas that are painted. In a few notes, the band is able to conjure so many scenes and thoughts. Similar to the ‘Interlude’ numbers: it gives you a chance to fill the gaps and come up with your own ideas. Having explored so many sides to love and life- the struggles faced- it is nice to kick back and embrace something ornate, orchestral and filmic. Those expecting Broken Knuckles to be the end; they need to keep listening. Like Nirvana- and the hidden track that appears at the end of Nevermind– the band is not done. Fast-forward six-or-so-minutes and you get a final utterance. An angry and Spoken Word presentation- where our hero concludes the album’s themes and angers- it has a spooky and unease sound. The listener is made to listen and pay attention to the song. Although the hero is “At one with the darkness” you feel like a lot has been learned. Having gone through such an eventful past- an epic self-discovery- we get an unexpected closing sermon. A suitably impressive and memorable way to end the album- cliffhangers are left and questions hang. One wonders whether the band- and the lead, especially- have found happiness and answers- or whether that voyage continues on.
Every member of the band should be applauded for such sterling and dedicated work. Each player adds huge weight and importance to the album. From the dilligent and powerful percussion work to the leadership bass parts; the varied, colourful guitars- along to those rich and stunning vocals. Backed with incredible production values and consistently engaging songwriting: Visions of Symmetry sees Echo Arcadia hit new form and reach their peak. Across the 13 tracks, the band explores new territory but keep their core sound intact. Existing fans will find continuation from Beauty in an Average Life: new listeners will be provided with new treats and explorations. The Edinburgh clan sequestered themselves away when recording the album. Toiling over subject matter and deadlines; looking for fresh inspiration: the time and torment have paid dividends. What we have is a solid and fantastic album from one of the U.K.’s most underrated acts. Maybe the single-minded themes- that tend to err on the self-reflective and negative- might seem challenging to some listeners. The hardship and darkness is shrouded in beauty, hopefulness, and light. Although each song shows struggle and pain: you never feel bummed-out and off-put at any point. What you do get- and the biggest takeaway from the record- is a group with a very bright (and long) future ahead.
Echo Arcadia ensure their sophomore album is packed with memorable songs and stunning moments. Having faced transitions and challenges: the Edinburgh elite have produced a focused and deep album: one that provides immediate beauty, relief and urgency- revealing layers, nuance, and revelation across time. I have heard Adele has secured a- gaudy and monumental- recording deal: the biggest-ever in musical history. Whilst music’s battling struggle to get gigs and focus: it seems flabbergasting that one of music’s, let us say it, mediocre stars is commanding such prestige. Where most consider self-preservation and survival a goal: Adele is commanding riches and multi-million-pound deals. Her best days are past- since 21, she has been treading water and becoming rather dull- and it is a sad reflection of music- there is such an imbalance and inequality. I wish some of that money- God knows how many millions it was- was invested to the great new acts emerging. The likes of Echo Arcadia promise much more depth, quality, and potential: they have to struggle in the trenches with the rest. That said, the hirsute boys have been busy interviewing and performing. They have built a name and reputation in their beloved Edinburgh. The video for Hurricanes has been released: the fans and media are keen to extol the virtues of the track. It shows how far the band has come. Beauty in an Average Life contained plenty of gems and highlights: Visions of Symmetry promises to best their debut work.
In late-June- when the album is released- ensure you grab a copy and discover something fantastic. It is great to be back with a terrific group that has many more years left. They will not suffer the ill fates of the industry: where Rock gods call it quits and promising Pop stars pack their bags. There is such a warm bond and connection in the band: they love what they’re doing and that comes through in the music. Having put their heads down to record Visions of Symmetry: that hard graft and dedication has paid off. The L.P. overflows with immaculate beauty and raw passion. In spite of the 13-track (plus hidden song) length: there is never a sense (the album) is bloated or unfocused. Each song buys its way into the mix. Where next for Echo Arcadia? They will be releasing the album in a matter of days: a chance for the world to hear some of 2016’s finest songs. After that, there will be tour dates and promotional duties- the obligatory interviews and press trail. I hope their touring sphere extends down south. It would be great to see the guys seduce London: they could get a series of gigs lined down here. In fact, they have the potential to amaze far and wide- both nationally and internationally. Given their progression and reputation: I can see the boys enjoying success in the U.S. Maybe money and personal plans will limit that- or put it on hold for a few years- but it is something to think about. Visions of Symmetry is a welcomed return from a terrific group. In a year that has seen the mainstream steal focus- the Radioheads and James Blakes take top honours- it is good to see an under-the-radar band…
PRODUCE something that is could rival any of them.
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