While not the instant classic that As The World or Suffocating the Bloom are (and how many albums can realistically compare to those two gems anyway), the latest release from Echolyn, The End is Beautiful, is a step in the opposite direction from their last platter Mei. Gone is the melancholy, sprawling concept of that opus, in its place is a more tighter, leaner, upbeat Echolyn. The return of bassist Tom Hyatt also signals a newfound funkiness for Echolyn, and in turn leaves Ray Weston with space to explore keyboards & guitar parts in addition to vocals. Chris Buzby however seems to have really opened up his tonal palette with this album, as his keyboard textures, sounds, and soundscapes really make The End is Beautiful. If Hyatt's bass grooves add a funky flavor to the album, it's the blistering jazz chops of Buzby who add the fusion to the funk. Check out his horn-like clavinet & electric piano passages on "Georgia Pine", but let's not to neglect his killer Hammond B-3 tone, which is all over this CD. On "Heavy Blue Miles", "So Ready", and "Lovesick Morning", the band brings in a guest horn section, which again adds a funky, jazzy, almost early Chicago feel to the songs. On "Lovesick Morning", guitarist Brett Kull turns in a killer lap steel guitar solo that just screams Steve Howe all the way. The band goes back to their prog roots on the complex & heavy "Make Me Sway", complete with some angry vocals from Weston, Mellotron washes, nimble synth solos, and chunky guitar riffs.
The title track starts off as a jazzy little atmospheric number, with tricky drum fills from Paul Ramsey and plenty of agile piano & guitar melodies, then rips into an intricate rocker during the middle break that will remind fans of their older material. The lyrics on this one are pretty angry, and sung perfectly by Ray Weston. "The Arc of Descent (Dancing in a Motel Just West of Lincoln)" is a moody and mellow number, sung passionately by both Kull and Weston, but is one of the more laid back pieces on the album. Buzby's snarling B3 leads you into the nine-minute "Misery, Not Memory", just a wonderful example of pure Echolyn. Progressive, jazzy, melodic, with deep, personal lyrics and tight instrumentation, this is a great finale to the album. Hyatt's gymnastic bass lines, the weaving guitar work of Kull, Ramsey's intricate drum layers, and the multitude of colors from Buzby, give the song a strong yet rootsy Gentle Giant feel, and Weston's vocals add a great dramatic effect.
After repeated listens, this is one of those albums that just gets better and better, and the end result is that it is much more fulfilling than Mei, and my guess is that The End is Beautiful will also age better over time. Echolyn continue to show why they are one of the most beloved of the current crop of progressive rock acts. The End is Beautiful is quite beautiful indeed, and will sit very nicely on the trophy shelf just below Echolyn's other classic releases.
1. Georgia Pine (5:49)
2. Heavy Blue Miles (6:48)
3. Lovesick Morning (10:12)
4. Make Me Sway (5:22)
5. The End is Beautiful (7:45)
6. So Ready (5:01)
7. The Arc of Descent (Dancing in a Motel Just West of Lincoln) (5:46)
8. Misery, Not Memory (9:03)
Total Time: 55:46