Even at the commercial end of the spectrum, the Polish music scene is one dominated by experimentalism and multi-genre experimentation. Long running acts such as revered pop act Hey have never played it safe, as their consistent reinvention (and their remarkable MTV unplugged performance) have shown, whilst the equally long-running Armia moved between crushing alt-rock to full-blown jazz territory without so much as breaking a sweat. Therefore one should never be surprised by a Polish act offering up music that is both wildly inventive and gloriously colourful and Echoe, on this self-titled effort, succeed on both fronts. Ostensibly a rock act, Echoe are more than capable of laying down a powerful firestorm of riffs when the mood takes them, but there is so much more going on than simply plugging in and rocking out, and the eleven track record covers a wide variety of bases from rock to metal to jazz to progressive, without once sounding contrived or overblown – an impressive feat.
Opening with ‘Kornishawn’, the band throw up a funky vibe that is somewhere between Polish soul-metal act Hunter and Sly and the family Stone. The band have a unique vibe, drawing heavily from the classic funk of the late sixties that so influenced David Bowie, and the resulting clash of styles – as the band introduce full-on, raw metallic riffs and David Gilmour-aping solos is a colourful, soulful, potent sound that is as original as it is exciting. ‘Illusions’ is more straight forward than the opening track, although maintaining the soulful vibe and offering up plenty of opportunities for the guitars to take the lead, which they do with stunning effect. Eschewing the hyper-technical shredding style of typical metal, the solos of Aleks Kowalczuk and Michal Szablowski are informed by feel and emotion rather than obsessive technicality with the result that each song has a powerful feel reminiscent of the grand progressive albums of the mid-seventies coupled with the more heavy rock feel of the modern era and the production standards to match. ‘Stoned Dog’ mixes up the bizarre musical experimentation of PJ Harvey and sends it spinning through the funk influences of the first track, all Hammond organ stabs and loose, funky bass, the result being a track that is the musical equivalent of being absolutely battered – the band’s remarkable skill being to make the whole bizarre experience sound completely natural and organic. It’s fresh, innovative and, above all, great fun, Echoe inhabiting a similarly colourful musical world to Mike Patton, where anything goes as long as it sounds unique.
Heading into heavier pastures ‘undefined blood’ is a metallic track with huge, chugging guitars, incongruous funky stabs and a blistering solo that simply smokes in the middle eight – think Dream Theater being molested by Mike Patton and James Brown and you have a fair idea of where Echoe are coming from. ‘And now…’ is the briefest of segues that leads into ‘…the statue burns’ – a progressive rock slow burner that gets under your skin. ‘Captive’, by contrast, is a straight forward alt-rock track that minimises the funk influences and recalls Pearl jam with a looser vibe for a track that would make a grand single from the album, particularly when it heads off, unexpectedly, into random Pink Floyd pastures full of creepy laughs and churning bass. The next track, ‘Indiana Jones’ is utterly insane. Opening with the sound of beers being opened, it then drops into a massed vocal that recalls The Meat Puppets similarly bonkers ‘Hercules’ before heading off into pure funk territory. ‘Feats divine’ bizarrely sounds like a cross between Pink Floyd, Dream Theater and James Horner’s soundtracks to Star Trek, all topped off with Matt Bellamy doing his best crooner impression over the top. It’s the sort of melody that sticks endlessly in your head, and a highlight of this wildly imaginative album. ‘Time’ has a loose, jam-style vibe to it, the track sounding like a collaboration between Faith No More, U2, spiritualized and Peeping Tom, complete with a suitably over the top, heavy ending. Finally, the spoken word oddness of ‘restless’ closes the album with the band cleverly mixing the grimy atmosphere of a fifties detective novel with the studied insanity of Fantomas and the funky stylings of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It provides a strong ending to an album in which the quality never dips thanks to a seemingly bottomless well of invention and the band’s ubiquitously excellent musicianship.
Balancing multiple genres is no easy task. It can just as easily lead to a band being pilloried as revered and few artists truly get away with blending multiple styles unless they are true masters of their instruments and have a clear idea of what they want to achieve over the course of a whole album. Over the course of the album Echoe’s main touchstone is the work of Mike Patton, whose eccentricity and personality are most clearly felt in the vocals of Michal Szablowski, but that is not to say that Echoe do not have their own sound, far from it. Echoe are gloriously irreverent, unique and intelligent and their musical ability is beyond compare. If you are looking for a funky, soulful, multi-faceted, colourful blast of innovative rock music then this is essential listening.
Did we get it right? Listen to the band’s music via bandcamp and you can buy the album as a ‘name your price’ download.