Echo Lake

The resurgence of dream pop in 2010 was almost suffocating, with shoegaze being a main point of creative reference. Beach House, Wild Nothing, and Grimes lead the way, ushering a slew of others who barely hopped on the bandwagon with enough gusto to keep their feet from dragging in the dirt. So when Echo Lake put out their own contribution to the scene, 2010’s Young Silence EP, they seemed to be one of these smaller acts that actually had their heads in the right place. Instead of calling it a day after layering reverb, Echo Lake used the EP to employ audible clarity within a negative space.

All that changed when the relatively flat Wild Peace came out two years later. Their debut full-length was too busy trying to be sonically diaphanous to leave any semblance of a lasting mark. There was no edge, no blissful hook, no succinctly layered distortion. There’s a way to make fuzzed out drone work; Echo Lake hadn’t figured it out. Now though, on their follow-up LP, Era, Echo Lake have undergone the sharp point of their own red pen to release a striking, calculated LP.

When drummer Peter Hayes passed away days before Wild Peace dropped, things got muddled. Their musical buoyancy now had an anchor hooked to its belly. After a much needed break, songwriters Thom Hill and Linda Jarvis spent the last two years attacking their material from numerous different angles. Now with Will Young on bass and Dayo James on drums, meditative pop, immersive grit and thin psych weasel their way into the mix, giving listeners more to chew on than the inexorable waves of shoegaze.

While single ‘Waves’ sees a return to their sustained aural soundscape, their most powerful example of a band redefined is encapsulated on eight-minute groove ‘Dröm’. A monstrous growl pulses at the beginning, growing gradually until an eerie piano line plods in the background. It feels like drowning. By the time the thick drone has become hypnotic, Echo Lake bring in their crunchiest bass line, slipping into a deep, monochromatic dream. Jarvis employs her vocals as a glossy finish, harmonising with her own echoes. It’s the album’s defining moment of a band ready to try harder.

Echo Lake continue to pour out sounds that mimic their carefully chosen name. At first, Era seems no different from Wild Peace. Once again, there’s endless reverb of sinewaves caught between natural walls, the tranquil buzz of instruments mocking insects, the invitation to take a nap on a flat rock by the waterside. Whereas the band got lost in their own sonic maze in 2012, they’re self-aware enough this time to laugh at the dead ends in addition to guiding you to the proper finish line. With that comes an admirable faith in getting lost. It’s easy to place blame. Echo Lake let you doze off in the middle of ‘Era’ and ‘Light Sleeper’ (go figure). The reverb becomes so dense that it hits you with sedatives, pushing you on your back and convincing you that the ground is soft enough to sleep on, even if their guitars are piling up into a deafening puddle of noise. But on tracks like ‘Era’, Echo Lake take note of their past errors and try their best to solve them. Halfway through the track’s pent up drone, a clean guitar line appears, sweeping away the previous accumulations of sound in favour of a sunny restoration, encouraging you to sit back up, awake, and take in their sound with the sunlit daze that follows brief shuteye. The album’s warm blending comes courtesy of Timothy Stollenwerk, the same man responsible for Grouper’s Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, where, once mastered, the tracklist became solidified, confident in its layers.

With just seven tracks, the South London act allow Era to clock in at the perfect length. Right when things could feel overwrought, they cut them off. ‘Heavy Dreaming’ draws everything to a close over the course of ten minutes. Pentatonic melodies are rounded off, Jarvis sings sweetly through an optimistic tone, lighting up a tropical bass line backed by meek shakers. Echo Lake may have embraced bleakness on their debut, but Era‘s elegiac touch comes from unbridled creativity amidst the brash reverb of shoegaze.

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