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Amplifier - Echo Street (Album Review)

Friday, 08 March 2013 Written by Ben Bland
Amplifier - Echo Street (Album Review)

The challenge for Amplifier, having wowed almost everyone who was ever likely to care with their mammoth 2011 opus ‘The Octopus’, when crafting the follow-up was very much one of managing expectations. A band that has just delivered a substantial (in every sense of the word) double album cannot be expected to just repeat the formula. Add in the departure of bassist Neil Mahony and the options available to the band appear to have been growing ever narrower. Thus the band has taken a very different path on this release. It was written and recorded in just sixty days, whereas ‘The Octopus’ took four years to put together. It should come as no surprise then that ‘Echo Street’ is a very different record.

ImageThe unkind observer would remark that ‘Echo Street’ sounds its sixty day gestation period. ‘The Octopus’ sounded monumental in every way, as befitting a four year creative process. This is a less refined album. There are less of the startling array of sound effects that Amplifier have previously weaved delicately into their sound and more focus than ever before is placed upon actual songs. These are not bare boned pieces, but they are a good deal more stripped back than many efforts on past albums. This will undoubtedly upset some fans desiring a continuation of the widescreen prog mantra that was put to such good use on ‘The Octopus’ but one has to come to terms with the fact that this is a very different, and probably necessary, record in the band’s career.

The stall is set out by opener ‘Matmos’. It’s a more obviously introspective song than many Amplifier fans may expect. Mid-paced and featuring higher pitched vocals than we are used to from frontman Sel Balamir; it demonstrates where Amplifier are at on ‘Echo Street’. The album is one of what could essentially be called ballads. Each of the eight tracks carries an epic feel to it without being compositionally so. Indeed, the stripped down approach to writing and recording seems to have pushed Amplifier into a space where they feel comfortable in developing their sound without forcibly trying to push into consistently diverse sonic territories. Balamir’s massive pedalboard is probably ruing the change but there are few reasons for listeners to do the same.

In fact some of the tracks here rank amongst Amplifier’s best to date. For example ‘Where the River Goes’, which is the sort of epic rock composition bands almost exclusively mess up these days, and the title track, which plays off element which the band have already acknowledged as “Floydian”. There is a lack of the crunching hard rock riffs that Amplifier have always dealt in, that is true, but here their mastery of the relatively chilled out rock song is what is on display here, and there is no reason to doubt that more energetic ‘traditional’ Amplifier material will arrive again in the future.

The only real problem, in fact, with the new direction is a lack of true variety. ‘Echo Street’ is a slow-burner, which is fair enough. It is unlikely to captivate fans on first listen in quite the same way as either the band’s astonishingly underrated debut or ‘The Octopus’, and when it does get there eventually it may well be more as a collection of songs than as a record. Unfortunately, for some, as a full-length, ‘Echo Street’ will be unpalatably hard work. This is partly because some songs are noticeably more immediately satisfying than others, but mostly because everything here is unusually one paced. The mid-tempo territory that Amplifier occupy here is by no means a poor creative decision, but it could do with being altered a little more to make ‘Echo Street’ more appealing as a listenable whole. There are not too many times when one really desires a fifty minute exclusively mid-tempo record; it is probably fair to say.

Despite this flaw, which will trouble listeners to varied degrees, ‘Echo Street’ remains a good move by Amplifier. The band needed to produce something different to ‘The Octopus’, even if more for their own sakes than for ours, and that they undeniably have done. The result is a band that sounds as confident as ever, and given the hard road they have travelled to get this far, that can in no way be a bad thing.

‘Echo Street’ is out on Monday via Kscope. Amplifier tour the UK to promote the release of the album.

Amplifier UK & Ireland Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat March 16th 2013 - 53 Degrees, Preston
Sun March 17th 2013 - Fleece, Bristol
Mon March 18th 2013 - York Duchess, York
Tue March 19th 2013 - King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
Wed March 20th 2013 - Rock City, Nottingham
Thu March 21st 2013 - The Garage, London

Click Here to Compare & Buy Amplifier Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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