Willamette – Echo Park
Posted In: Echo Park, Infraction Records, John McCaffrey, Williamette, Williamette - Echo Park
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Now this is going to look like lazy reviewing. I’m going to start with a comparison that will have all ambient heads groaning in sheer disbelief at the fact that yet another act/album is being compared to Stars of the Lid…but yes, it’s true. This album uses all the tropes associated with the widely acknowledged masters of the genre and it does so to such an extent that it practically screams ‘compare me to stars of the lid’. We’re all familiar with this comparison and it has become such a cliche that it’s essentially shorthand for ‘this is an ambient album’. Large numbers of flaccid, go-nowhere, uninspired albums have been allowed off the hook by this lazy comparison. Not only does this allow a large volume of shit to flood the market, but it also detracts from the genuine majesty that SOTL display and for which they are rightly acknowledged.
So with that aside, I am pleased to say that Willamette have managed to produce an album that is truly worthy of the comparison. ‘Echo Park’ is an album of diffuse splendour, plaintive sketches, and beautiful, wistful melancholia…all delivered with an acute sense of restraint and precision.
The 10 tracks are, on the whole, relatively brief for the genre (maximum of five and a half minutes) and, to my mind at least, this should be taken as a significant strength…ideas are not allowed to overstay their welcome but certainly never feel underdeveloped. Moods are swiftly evoked, allowed full expression and then softly dissipate. It would have been very easy to extend a few tracks here and there, drag out a sequence past it’s utility, and strive for a pseudo-epic scale for the album. The fact that the composer/s resisted temptation in this regard speaks volumes for their ability to prioritise artistry over posturing. This ‘just enough to do the job’ sensibility also informs the album’s melodic core. As with all essentially minimal music, it’s the parts that are left out that carry the greatest weight and here, each piece manages to convey a deep emotional resonance with the merest hint of ethereal melody.
The majority of the album is carried by gentle swelling pulses of hazy chords – and as such ‘Echo Park’ is clearly an ‘ambient’ album; easily listened to in the background – but when clear instrumentation comes to the fore (such as on the gorgeous ‘New York Heat’) it has a piercing effect that seizes the listeners attention and brings the music into sharp focus.
Albums of this calibre are, indeed, rare. So if there is to be any criticism levelled at ‘Echo Park’, it is probably that it wears its influences too clearly on its sleeve. Frankly though, if that’s the worst thing I can say about this album the message you should be taking away from this review is that Willamette have produced, with ‘Echo Park’, an album that could easily stand as one of the contenders for ambient album of the year.
- John McCaffrey for Fluid Radio