Ethan Matthews could be his generation's answer to Mike Patton — he's not mapping the boundaries of aural arcana by any means, nor conducting bizarre fringe vocal experiments, but the output by his current band project Echo Us differs as greatly from his music with Greyhaven as Patton's excursions with Fantomas and Tomahawk stand apart from the first couple Faith No More albums (for this occasion, allow for a bit of disregard on the part of Mr. Bungle). The Tide Decides is the next evolutionary step for Echo Us and it elaborates splendidly on the groundwork laid by the eponymous album of 2003.
Thematic shifts, tempo changes, a polished production, a healthy indulgence of melodrama — elements intrinsic to "prog rock" — populate the album, even if the end result doesn't exactly resemble anything "prog" that's been raved about as of late. Two songs hit the eleven-minute mark, "Trans-Atlantic" and the finale "...And Sea To Sky (Bon Voyage)." With analog synths (and the Mellotron, Rhodes electric piano, clavinet, etc.) in vogue again for the last decade-plus, it takes a good-sized pair to record a heavily electronic album with a purely digital rig. Crystalline timbres shape the album as much as Ethan's surgical crunch-guitar strikes and lead vocals, which at times sound like an angstier Gary Wright or Tony Carey. The first ninety seconds of "Trans-Atlantic" could almost pass for Tangerine Dream circa the early-to-mid '90s. Burbling synth-arpeggios and bass sequences surface in "Fantastic Elevation" and "Descending From The Dream," while the latter reveals moaning violin drones and sourced sound bites. The violinist's brief vocal also graces "...And Sea To Sky" and thus the notion of a male-female vocal tandem on the third album seems likely if not inevitable. Halfway through the track, Ethan dials another TD-esque sequence and a sampled musical box; yet another sound eerily similar to a certain one Vangelis used in his Blade Runner score is utilized to great effect. The interplay and timbral combinations are nifty, and the somber strains of the violin and analog bass enhance the proceedings when the vocal section resumes. As the album fades out, it becomes apparent that, along with the obvious elements of modern trance, a "symphonic shoegaze" aesthetic has crept in; think the trance-rock of Delerium (not the prog band) or the lush shoegaze-pop of Mira.
This is not an album to absorb in one sitting; The Tide Decides balances optimism with despair, reins in adventure with the dusky reins of gloom, and still manages to get aggressive when it needs to. Tide's release on Musea's Parallele imprint is another step forward that lifts Echo Us from the murky limbo of the private press. Initial orders look promising, and like its predecessor, Tide should appeal to the shoegaze, ambient-pop/rock and nu-goth scenes as well as fans of Phideaux, Porcupine Tree, Spectrum, and Delerium (again, not the prog band).
1. From Snow To Sea... (4:25)
2. We Surfaced (5:33)
3. Trans-Atlantic (10:55)
4. State Of Expectation (5:41)
5. The Tide Decides (5:10)
6. Fantastic Elevation (7:32)
7. Descending From The Dream (7:10)
8. Shooting Scenes (5:41)
9. Out At The Edge Of The World (5:17)
10. ...And Sea To Sky (Bon Voyage) (11:33)
Total Time – 69:02