The Phantom Tollbooth
August '98 Pick of the Month

The Echoing Green
Artist: The Echoing Green
Label: 5 Minute Walk/Sarabellum
Time: 12/48:52

If you're sick of all the cookie-cutter grunge bands filling Christian bookstore shelves, but are scared of the faceless world of electronic music, The Echoing Green offers a fun and joyful musical option. Their high-intensity, melody-driven pop music has been gaining fans the past few years. They deftly avoid the problems that befall many techno acts, like overproduction and emotionless sterility. Underground popularity for the group has especially been strong, thanks in large part to energetic live shows and the Internet. The group's official web site receives thousands of hits monthly, some fans have set up their own home pages for the band, and there is occasional discussion of the Echoing Green on newsgroups like rec.music.christian.
 
This new album, which came out in June, marks the band's first release for 5 Minute Walk / SaraBellum records. It starts out with the first single, "The Power Cosmic," with an infectious rhythm and chorus that can't help but stick in your head. This song also shows the direction the band (primarily Joey Belville) has gone. While the last album, Hope Springs Eternal, relied upon the heavy guitars of Aleixa's Kevin 131, this album gains intensity elsewhere. Focusing on heavy beats and tweaked electronic effects, there is a happy union between Joey's synth pop sensibilities and the techno-driven production of Scott and Jason of the band Deepsky (responsible for the theme song to MTV's "Amp").
 
Most of the songs are impressive, but one stand-out track is "Hide," written by Jyro Xhan from Fold Zandura. Its simple chorus--"I will hide myself away in Jesus' care"--and its inclusion on the ForeFront Records's Seltzer 2 compilation should gain it some fans.
 
The album also features covers of a couple of '80s favorites, including "Accidentally 4th St. (Gloria)" (Figures on a Beach)and "The Safety Dance" (Men Without Hats)--the latter making computer geeks like me dance like freaks when heard in concert! Joey B. puts his own spin on this classic.
 
It's hard not to like this album. On first listen, the melodies and beats hit you hard. Musically, this is legit. It's not like something you heard in the general market five years ago. It's today, but it's also the future. Joey B. calls his music "aggressive smile pop" because it emphasizes the positive in life - specifically life with Jesus Christ. The lyrics are honest and thought-provoking, hitting upon relevant yet timeless issues. The vocals are also some of Joey's best to date. They are abit airy at times, but more mature than before as a result of extensive touring. Overall, there's no reason that fans of pop groups like the Newsboys wouldn't like this. It's fun, musically diverse, and has a positive take on life. With this album, The Echoing Green should attract many fans.
 
By Steve White

Once upon a time, keyboards ruled the airwaves. Then they vanished. Slowly they've been coming back, and one of the best examples lies in The Echoing Green.  Once again Joey Belville has gone into the studio and given us a lovely piece of electronic ear-candy.

The Echoing Green, their 5th cd and third complete album, is full of the 80's retro sound, while looking ahead into the future.  In what seems to be a conscious effort to ditch the Erasure comparison, the musical arrangements differ quite a bit from earlier releases.  What results sounds superficially like a cross between Prodigy and Pet Shop Boys, but definitely stands out on its own.  I invite the comparisons not in an effort to judge quality, but as a means to give a rough idea of a sound that is extremely difficult to describe.

The twelve song effort (11 songs plus one remix) opens with "The Power Cosmic," a slow building piece reportedly inspired by The Silver Surfer that kicks major booty once it gets going.

Next is "Empath," my personal favourite.  Unfortunately, Joey has stated that he's moving away from lyrics dealing with pain and emotional turmoil. This song makes me want to beg him to stay with that type song because that's when his best work comes out.

The next song, "Hide," is the only one I've never been able to listen to all the way through.  If I could find a way to edit out the chorus it would be so much better.  The verses are cool, good music, excellent vocals, but then the chorus kicks in and one starts to wonder if Joey has been spending too much time watching TBN.

Much anticipated is the cover of "The Saftey Dance."  I wonder what Ivan would think of this version?  Personally I love it, and while not as good as the original, Joey puts his own spin on the song.  My only regret is that he didn't get someone to do the little bits of French vocals.

The Echoing Green also has two instrumentals ("Elyon" and "Freak Out"), which prove that Joey's strength lies in songs with lyrics. Though good, there's nothing about them that jumps out and grabs me, and I usually end up forgetting them a minute later.

Final song mention should go to "Believe," a song that originally appeared on Science Fiction, in tandem with his cover of Joy Electric's "Candy Cane Carriage".  When Science Fiction came out, the Echoing Green web page promised us that when he recorded a full version of the song, it was gonna sound different.  And boy did he deliver on that promise.  This new version of "Believe" is a beautiful minimalistic piece that has Joey singing his best ever. And with lines like "There was a time when all I did was cry/the fear it gripped my life/and all my dreams passed by ...and here comes the One who gave me strength when I had none/my broken heart is beating once again." This song nearly reduces me to tears when I hear it.

Is this the best synthpop album ever made? No...but then, not every album can have that honour.  However, I would definitely place this in the top 20.

By John Vanden Heuvel


 

E-mail
 
Copyright © 1998 The Phantom Tollbooth