Review Summary: Amplifier take off into space, but don't quite reach the stars...
The Octopus is one of the greatest prog albums of the 21st Century. It's hard to deny with its soaring riffs, thunderous drumming and lyrics that take you on a trip through the vastness of space, travelling faster than light.
That album took the band no less than four years to craft, while Echo Street was finished in a matter of months.
It's easy to be fooled into thinking this will be Amplifier's best album yet with the near-perfect opener Matmos
. The song sees the band dropping their usual themes of interstellar travel and insects with magic powers for Sel Balamir to sing an ode to love and fulfilment, a wall of guitar and Matt Brobin's signature drum fills creating a powerful, uplifiting atmosphere. A slow build of subtle and spacey atmosphere until a final breathtaking release make for what turns out to be one of Amplifier's best and most distinctive songs, a clear sign of a confident and maturing band.
However, as the next song The Wheel
foreshadows, the rest of the album is much less masterfully crafted, with some songs feeling half-baked in structure, this track left a fairly pointless listening experience. Amplifier's formula of reaching the mid-point of a song and then repeating the first half - which had previously caused them to flirt with repetitiveness on songs like The Octopus
and Fall of the Empire
- has finally failed them; The Wheel teasingly builds up to a moment where one of Balamir's mind-melting riffs could take it away but nope, at 3:53, the song just starts again.
With the addition of ex-Oceansize guitarist Steve Durose, you'd think there'd be frequent interplay in the string section but it appears that the driving grooves that previously made
Amplifier are almost extinct, replaced by standard chord progressions that, while not making the music boring, fail to truly captivate the listener much of the time.
This is not helped by how when solos are present, they are too low in the mix so important moments often fail to stand out, especially in Extra Vehicular
's heavy section, leaving the song feeling like it should be 5 minutes shorter.
Then there's Paris in the Spring
, could have been amazing but ends up meandering for 8 minutes, unsure whether it should be an quiet lament or thundering and explosive, instead mixing both and achieving neither.
Despite all these rantings, Echo Street is in no way a bad album. It has its stand-outs in the beautifully simple Where the River Goes
, every instrument slowly coming together until the track soars in its climax, and the title track, an immersive, soothing and even psychedelic piece with a gentle bassline layered over Sel's distant falsetto, proving the band's huge talent for expansive, atmospheric space rock.
It's also nice to see Amplifier attempting something entirely new with the all-acoustic Between Today and Yesterday
, poor Brobin having to sit still for 5 minutes without hammering that floor-tom for once. Also, Mary Rose
is a joyful, light-hearted closer, though it does become a tad repetitive and can't hold the smallest ember of a candle to the previous album's Forever and More
, which could rank among the best closers of all time.
Echo Street is a valiant attempt by Amplifier to embrace their mellower side but I feel it was rushed (perhaps to bring something to the table for their new record label?) and it proves to be the album's downfall, showing even in the album's artwork. While Amplifier have never been known for having the most enthralling artwork, Echo Street's looks like a half-hour Photoshop job - the 'ripped' paper effect is abominable...