Echo Helstrom - The Veil - Echo Music 2006
Running Time: 54:07
Or, How I Lost 666.66% Of My Metal Cred In One Review. The most "trv" and "kvlt" among you will want to quickly skip to the next review now. I'm not fucking joking. Now. Well, if you're foolhardly enough to hang around, I can't be blamed for you latching onto one of the best straight up rock releases to cross this desk so far this year. Echo Helstrom is about as far removed from metal as Carpathian Forest is Calexico, but when The Veil snuck out of my mailbox and across my desk, braving stacks of discs with bands named XXX Maniax and such, my inner rock music fan woke up, slipping the disc into the stereo during a much-needed respite from metal.
"I'm Not A Murderer" is reminiscent of The Jayhawks' (Gary Louris era) more mellow moments until the chorus stirs up a bit of bombast, Tahlia Harrison's background vocals joining Ross Seligman's to create urgency without losing sight of the music's inherent beauty. A shuffling rhythm carries the jubilant kiss-off to whatever came before that is "I'm Leaving Today", more than a little Paul Westerberg influence creeping in as Harrison's voice once more lends colour to the tune without becoming overbearing or predictable. Exquisite violin work by Alessandra Dinu finds a way to work a decidedly non-rock instrument into the melting pot of sound that is EH so well that it feels intregal to the sound of much of The Veil. The title track brims with singer/songwriter charm, as easily listened to in a car racing down a country road as in a smoky inner city jazz club on open mic night. Shortly before the five minute-mark, "The Veil" explodes into jagged chordings, Dinu's bow slashing at the strings as at the bonds of a constricting life, further defining the music of this Portland, Oregon quartet as exuberantly unpredictable. "Space Invader" is a slight nod to a darker, more user-unfriendly Del Amitri, Will Amend and Mike McDaniel planting themselves firmly in the higher echelons of underground rock rhythm sections. It finally hit me, when the nuances of Seligman's delivery finally clicked with my sleep- deprived brain. EH is a Smithereens content to immerse themselves in whatever scene will allow growth, instead of cynically snarling and shoving away popularity at the expense of artistic martyrdom. But I digress. The intro to "Ocean Mile" floats along slippery basslines, Harrison's sultry vocals impeccably placed in the plaintive chorus. This song sees Echo Helstrom's classical/jazz background moved to the forefront, a wave of sound crashing over, then ebbing away on a tide of rhythm-driven jazz meanderings. Seligman isn't your typical Isaac Brock or Will Oldham indie rock darling, easily trumping the former in listenability and oftentimes both in accessability. From the smooth, Latin guitarwork just beneath the surface of "Burning Sun" to the frantic, driving Rock (note capital "R") of "Hungry Ghost", EH is a band at the mercy of their muses, and thankful we should be for it. Few bands could cover Radiohead and approach the passion found on their subtle version of "True Love Waits", but Seligman and company do it and well. "Where I Sleep" conjures its own brand of intensity by tasteful violin blending with lush arrangements and honest delivery that encompasses all members of EH, and the protest lyrics of "Davy Jones" are driven home by fluid acoustic fingerpicking, unafraid to point out the irony of SUV drivers with sons who've died nameless in Iraqi car bombings.
Ending with an upright bass/violin coda in "I See Everything", Echo Helstrom have crafted an album of endearing warmth with the blood of '80s garage pop running through its veins. Rock enough for the parents currently subjected to their children's emo band of the week, indie enough for the kids tired of hearing their 40-something parents blasting Wilco on NPR. Only two records deep into Echo Helstrom's career, The Veil leaves behind genre and enters the realm of simply good music. Welcome. Please stay awhile.