When I was in my very late teens and early 20s, I absolutely loved prog rock. And I think that, had I heard Echolyn then, I probably would have loved them; I probably wouldn’t have cared about the things that now cause me to be concerned about this kind of music.
Because this record satisfies most of the things prog fans want in prog rock, I think: it’s full of complicated music performed excellently. Moreover, it was recorded in the 1990s, meaning that it sounds much better than most, if not all, prog rock albums from the 1970s. The melodies are stronger than many other prog rock bands’ as well. It’s the kind of thing that I would have acclaimed as a masterpiece when I was 20 and I understand why some people believe it is one. But it’s not.
See, a lot happened between 1975 and 1995, and more between 1970 and 1995. Had this record been recorded in 1975, it might have been a teeny bit past its prime, but it would still probably be a great, great record. If it had been recorded in 1970, it would be one of the masterpieces of the genre. (That would make it original too.) But it was recorded in 1995. And basically the only thing that tells me it was recorded in 1995 is the production values. (Well, some of the keyboards sound too ’90s or too ’80s for the 1970s too.) What I am saying is that Echolyn appears to exist in a world in which punk music (and a lot of other music) never happened. In their minds, Gentle Giant is the most important thing that happened in music.
I appreciate that it’s Gentle Giant that’s their biggest influence as it would be harder to enjoy if it was a band less interesting. And though Echolyn are not Gentle Giant – in their willingness to play ridiculously complicated music at the expense of accessibility – they have a better sense of melody. They are almost somewhere between Genesis and Gentle Giant on the spectrum; less theatrical than Genesis but a little more willfully difficult but with more concessions to conventional rock music than Gentle Giant.
But it’s not just the music that is derivative of another era. The lyrics, at times, also feel as though they are from another time. The lyricist seems to think he attended an English prep school in the 1960s. (Not every song is like this but way too many.) It’s as if he decided to mostly submerge his own American, more modern voice for that of what he imagines would be the voice of the brothers Shulman, had they been writing lyrics in 1995. It’s bizarre to put it mildly.
And that’s what makes this so difficult for me because, though I want to like this record and I thoroughly enjoy the music, it is super, super derivative and made in wilful ignorance of the march of musical history as if nearly everything (except for recording technology) which has occurred since Gentle Giant’s peak has been bad.
Still, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy listening to it.