Written By: Eric Butler
Label: Self-Released – Rating:
The profusion in recent years of a new vein of folk-inflected singer-songwriters has produced a host of noteworthy artists, such as Damien Rice, Weinland, and Gary Jules. The latter discovered a Bay-Area trio earlier this year known as the Echo Falls, whose self-titled debut has just been released.
At the record’s heart is a trio of obvious singles aiming for college-radio success, “Love Over Time,” “Every Second Thought” and “There is Time Enough.” Of these, the latter is the most exciting, a warm, unpredictable Cat Stevens-influenced track; the other two are, unfortunately, rather generic–which is quite out of character for the album. This is a very talented trio; singer-guitarist Alex Mandel has a versatile voice (slipping into subtle imitations of Neil Young, Cat Stevens, and Elliot Smith at various points) and considerable guitar chops, all the more so for his tasteful sense of restraint and discipline.
Alex is ably supported by the very talented rhythm section of drummer David Brandt and David Arend, whose double bass gives the album’s sound an acoustic warmth that helps it really stand out. Other than the two weak singles, everything here is definitely worth a listen, but standouts include: the warm, folky “Hummingbird;” “Watchtower,” which skilfully echoes the virtuosity and post-punk tension of Nickel Creek; “Fire Down Below,” which has great, image-rich lyrics to match the superb instrumentation (particularly Brandt’s turn on vibraphone); “Little One,” one of the best songs Cat Stevens never wrote; and the closer “Fall Asleep in the Sand,” which has the best atmosphere of any song on the album–sumptuous, tranquil, but with an anxious edge.
This is a superbly talented band with a clear sense of their influences, both expected and unexpected (if you listen carefully, you can catch touches of Brazilian jazz rhythms in Brandt’s drumming), and it’s those times when they are most adventurous–and most reluctant to compromise themselves for the sake of pop accessibility–that they shine the brightest.