Pelican – City Of Echoes
Release Date: June 5th, 2007
Record Label: Hydra Head Records
There are times when reviewing a record can be really difficult. On one hand, when listening to it, you can recognize that an album contains a serious amount of potential and is worthy of praise. On the other, the album just doesn’t live up to the audible potential as much as you’d hoped due to some major flaws in execution. Pelican’s follow-up to the widely praised The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw is just one example of just how polarizing a disc can be for an individual, not just an audience.
City of Echoes contains all the pieces required to make an ambient metal masterpiece. The song structures are epic, the detuned guitars morph perfectly creating some seamless transitions, and the mood created is one of the most unique I have heard in a while. What holds them back from creating a truly great album? Simply put, it’s the drums. Entire sections of songs are ruined by the lack of finesse and misguided fills. It may be a minor complaint, but it is one that is present throughout most of the album. Take for example the beautiful title track. Guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Lebec put forth an amazing performance, displaying just how cohesive their playing has become. Naturally intertwined riffs compliment each other perfectly creating an atmosphere that constantly evolves from melancholy to uplifting with a simple slide up the neck. It is easy to get lost in the track…until you are immediately brought back to reality when, during grand crescendos, the sloppy drums enter the picture. On debut albums, this sort of thing can be written off or attributed to lack of production or new formation of a band, but Pelican have been playing together for quite a while. Flubbed fills and lazy timing detract a hell of a lot from what, otherwise, is the best Pelican album yet. Most of the drum tracks sound like they were done in one take for a demo and never revisited or fine-tuned before the release. If the rhythm section is struggling to keep up with the rest of the band, the album cannot flow nearly as well as it should. With all instrumental music, groove and smooth transitions can make or break a song, and to hear such a great album tarnished is incredibly frustrating when a clear vision of what could have been is present. While it may either be a conscious decision on the part of drummer Larry Herwig or something to keep the sound raw, it really can kill the mood sometimes.
Aside from the unfortunate flaw in time keeping, City of Echoes is a fantastic record that should please fans of Explosions In the Sky and Isis equally. Long time listeners will have no problem welcoming the album to their collection. The band has traded the lengthy tracks of yore for a much more compact approach, with songs averaging in at around five and a half minutes. Pelican have done a great job in condensing the positive aspects of their music into this shorter structure, making City of Echoes their most accessible release to date. It takes a lot of strength to make an acoustic guitar sound ballsy and that is exactly how the all-acoustic “Wind With Hands” sounds. The baritone strings sound surprisingly heavy and the finished product is one of the prettiest compositions I’ve heard in some time. The production suits the album, managing to sound big without sounding overproduced, a great example of this being the rollicking “Spaceship Broken – Parts Needed”. Almost every song on the disc has an entirely different feel, from more decidedly metal songs to slow droning pieces. This variety is something consistent with the band’s previous efforts and one of the more endearing aspects of their music.
Anyone interested in Pelican’s past albums should give City Of Echoes a listen and decide for themselves. The good definitely outweighs the bad and if you can look past some of the flaws (whether they were on purpose or not), this is a solid release. It would be unfortunate to overlook the album due simply to implementation because underneath the gruff exterior lies a gem chock full of swelling guitars and some genuine emotion. It may be because this is being written from the bias of a drummer’s perspective, but after many (enjoyable) listens, I’m left with a handful of memorable songs and the phantom feeling of what could have been.
I saw Pelican on the Pelican/Mono tour last summer, and ever since I've been telling people - timidly - that their drummer sucks. Now I am confident in saying that he is ruining the band. I agree, Tom, that some of the shit he plays on this album (actually, MOST of it) chips away at the otherwise amazing songs. He sucks, and I am horrified that Hydrahead, Pelican, the producer and ESPECIALLY the drummer himself, let this album get released as it is.
Pitchfork's full of shit.
That being said, I agree with this review. Sometimes the drums are right on and other times, I'm left scratching my head.
Overall, I love this album, one of my favorites this year so far.
I bought the previous album "The Fire in our Throats will Beckon the Thaw" after I read several raving reviews and saw the album on many "Top albums of '05" lists. When I popped it in, I was excited and almost immediately bummed out. I kept waiting for the horrible sounding percussion to kick in and sound amazing, and it never got better. I personally think that album is unlistenable due to this and will not even give the "City of Echoes" a chance after reading this review. Honestly, I have never heard more raves about a band with an inexcusably BAD downside like I have with Pelican. I am a drummer as well and cannot handle how sloppy and amateur-swelled Larry Herweg's playing style is. It's like listening to someone play for the first time! I don't think I could even listen to this band if they replaced Larry with someone halfway decent, which by the way would be leagues ahead of the current percussion. The fact that the band can let this atrocity be considered final on their albums ruins my view of what they consider to be quality music. It's a shame, too, because the album did have a nice aural and spacious feel to it otherwise.
i have yet to listen to the studio versions of these songs and only saw them play live with thrice a while ago. it sounded great then but i have heard a lot of complaints about the drums on a lot of different sites and different reviews. i just need to pick up this album along with their new one.