You can’t have too much of a good thing. Echolyn are a favorite of mine; they’re almost certainly one of the best modern progressive rock bands, and honestly I’m not sure if you need the “modern”, “progressive”, or “rock” qualifiers there. The downside is that they’ve only made eight albums in their 25-some years of existence, and that’s counting one that’ll be released later this year. So fans like me often have to look towards the extended discography, which is often interesting when dealing with such an open democratic band as this one. When a failed deal with Sony led to the band temporarily breaking up in 1996, they split into two bands called Always Almost and Finneus Gauge, and divided between those two bands you could hear all the component parts that made up Echolyn.
Also, the band is so tight-knit that these discs become something like virtual Echolyn albums in their own right. Orangeish-Blue, the first solo disc by guitarist and sometimes-singer Brett Kull, is sorta like that. Ramsey plays the drums throughout (and Jordan Perlson is on one track), Chris Buzby plays the keyboards (when they appear) and helps with the arrangements, Greg Kull writes some lyrics, same as he does for the band. So I’m surprised this album isn’t more popular among Echolyn fans, particularly those who like the more stripped, pastoral side of the band. In a way, you could say this is a follow-up to the band’s 1993 EP And Every Blossom, which features the same kind of lush, moody, vocal-heavy pop songs as this.
Listening to this, you can hear exactly what Kull brings to the band – tunesmanship and a strong sense of aesthetics. For those two things alone you can say that this is a safe purchase, as there is not a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong. Furthermore, it’s not really progressive rock in the slightest, so there’s none of that overreach that often goes into solo albums from bands like this. The only risk is that things go overboard into smooth, adult-oriented literock territory. Kull is too smart to let that happen though; the only one song that really does that is the opening “Kisses in the Sun”. But even then, it’s tough to fault him too much, given that second point – everything on this album sounds great. Kull really knows what he’s doing when it comes to producing and arranging – all the instruments sound crisp and vibrant, all the harmonies and strings are put right where they’re needed.
But really, it’s all about the songs, as it always seems to be with these guys. Given that Echolyn technically only wrote one song this year there’s plenty left in the tank. Doing a solo album gives Kull the ability to indulge his Beatles leanings in a way you don’t really hear with the band – the songs here are short, self-contained, and pointed. The most adventurous tune comes at the end with “I Won’t Say Goodbye”, with alternates between a haunting, minor-chord laden 11/4 section and a gorgeous torch ballad – I guess now we know where stuff like “Never the Same” and “Memoirs from Between” came from. There’s a big pile of lush, romantic tunes (“All the Rage”, “Change”, “Sometimes Love Forgets”, “Untitled #1”), often interspered with songs that are more upbeat and catchy (“When I Dream”, “Main Street”, “Come on Joe”). It’s a formula as old as the rock n’ roll LP; outside of the modern-sounding production and a few keyboards, this might as well have been a mid-60’s British Invasion record.
This is important because I feel like this kind of songwriting is starting to become a lost art in this day. Songs like “15 Hours” or “Main Street” feel like they could be standards, songs that could eventually be covered by a variety of artists. Thinking back, you can hear a lot of that in Echolyn. There are lots of modern progressive acts that can essentially force themselves to write speedy, complex parts in messed up meters, and I have no doubts that Echolyn can do it as well (their 2000 album, Cowboy Poems Free, was full of that kind of finesse). But if the song’s not there, they won’t do it for its own sake, and that’s what makes them a cut above. Out of the five guys in the band, Buzby is the only one you could hear making a bona fide prog rock album on his own, and as much as I love the genre, maybe there’s something to that.
Don’t take my word for it! Just listen…