Outside, the snow was falling slowly. A morning that started overcast soon gave a small warning of sleet, following by a decisively strong flurry. The usual silence that greeted me on my walk through the city’s shortcuts was replaced by an ululating whisper that turned into howls in the narrow ginnels.
Still, I managed to be early and I could see the fluffy snowflakes circling the place like hungry sharks. The restaurant’s windows were a better form of entertainment than whatever the idiot’s lantern was showing. Football again? Christ.
PA must be on the fritz, so I just press play on the slightly battered mp3 player. Echodrone’s newest album, Five, starts coyly with a 3 note synth mantra repeated and followed by other instruments. Just like the Thames Television jingle, it announces that the show’s ready to go. Distorted guitars are not far behind the playful bassline. ‘Disparate Numbers’ has Echodrone’s upgraded sound flourishing, setting an example to the daffodils still buried deep beneath the snow, waiting for the warmer months.
The cold is no longer a problem. The restaurant’s buzzing neon lights and bleeps and boops from the cocktail Pacman machines are a fitting accompaniment to Five. Yes, by song number two, ‘Falling from Airplanes’, I begin to suspect that there are traces of shoegaze here, but Five’s something else, something more.
Outside, the snowflakes are now traveling horizontally. I try to make a call but I have no signal. The waitress brings me another vanilla coke and I thank her. The song soothes my worries, with that slight 80s soundtrack feeling enveloped in much needed reverb warmth (now with more fleece!) ‘NoiseBed’ gives me a headrush; its frantic pace swirling in fractal shapes, bright pink and watermelon green. Vocal duties have changed to add another layer of emotion to the song, now running entirely on raw emotions.
Just when I was about to go outside to try and get at least a bar on the phone, she walks in. She’s two shades of pale underneath the waterproof clothes and blizzard frosting. She apologizes but I tell her not to worry. She gets out this weird splitter thing that allows her to plug her headphones to my mp3 player. ‘Glacial Pace’ has a gnarly wall of sound guitar approach and it hits as she is starting to sink in the sofa. The Darjeeling tea I already ordered for her arrives just in time and she mentions how the tea and this song are pretty much having the same effect on her.
I agree, for there is a restoring feeling seeping through the tracks of Five. What is it exactly? I don’t know. The shoegaze elements should please fans of the genre and there’s enough electronic elements for the dream pop enthusiast to satisfy any hunger. Glitchier elements also come around, pulling the rug from under your feet, but you don’t fall violently, you just float like a feather trapped in a wind eddy.
‘Interlude Collage’ is a gorgeous instrumental smack in the middle of the album, serving as both a great divide between moods and as the precursor for ‘When the two ends meet’, one of the peaks of the album. Then again, Five is like flying over the Rockies and wondering which of the frosty summits is the highest.
Echodrone has always felt like a cinematic band. Grab any John Hughes/Joe Dante film from the 80s, turn the volume down and, yeah, they don’t synchronise but they feel so right. Whatever leftover momentum they brought from Mixtape for Duckie has been used to slingshot around the Sun and travel through the space and time continuum. ‘Motion Pictures’ feels like the collective sounds of forlorn looks, VO5-modelled quiffs and smiles from a mid-film montage, a slow paced one that manages to give you more depth about the characters than any bit of quotable dialogue.
The food arrives and our long conversation is interrupted. I’m probably mad for ordering a milkshake in this weather, but I’m not a reasonable man. This moment right here, as we listen to ‘Less than imaginary’, feels like whatever I imagined dates would be when I was a kid listening to mixtapes with OMD, Kim Wilde and Erasure. ‘Less than Imaginary’ might be placed for a while in a box with those bands, but it will break free; it needs a larger space to open its wings and soar away, propelled upwards violently by the near infinite energy derived from the song’s placement in the opposite side of the slacker spectrum.
And Five is everything but “slacker”. The pace is slow but never plodding. There’s never a shout but there’s a sense of urgency that you can’t shake away. There is no visible anger but you just feel it there, peeking around the corner. Heck, there’s not a single guitar solo. Ok, that one was a lie. ‘Chrome’ has a mad guitar frenzy that can stand proudly next to Red House Painters’ ‘Silly Love Songs’ guitar freakout. ‘Chrome’ is also a crowning achievement in Echodrone’s CV. The slow introduction of instruments is forewarning as a synth droning pours hot tarmac that cools instantly, just in time for that aforementioned guitar to go wild. Echodrone are now in a red convertible, they are zooming past Barstow and no bat can ruin the pure, unadulterated trip that is ‘Chrome’. A dual vocal harmony is perfect, because as the song’s first half conquered brutality, the second half slowly sways away, deconstructing the emotions piece by piece.
“I have to go” she says as she finishes her tea. I nod for a moment but ask her if she fancies listening to the last song. She says no. We shake hands, then we embrace and she buries herself into the layers of lifesaving clothes. Her hand was still cold in her ring finger due to that metal noose she’s been wearing for the past three months. I tell her the meal’s on me and she waves goodbye. I’m an expert in “last looks” and I think I’ve witnessed one.
As I walk back home, sliding back every 8th step, I listen to that last song from Five. ‘Octopussy’ is a magnificent cover of The Wedding Present, paying respect to the original while still infusing it with that Echodrone bouquet that makes their covers of songs so frigging good. As the instruments slowly back away, leaving only the drums and synth atmospheres fading out, I accept that I’ve exchanged a last look with someone, but there’s something new over that hill. No one better than Echodrone to keep me company on this trip.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López