A Troop of Echoes - Days in Automation
Record Label: Oak Apple Records (Canadian distribution)
Release Date: June 6, 2010
A Troop of Echoes are NOT a jazz band. Just because front man Peter Gilli happens to play a sax does not make this music jazz. Calling it such is a testament to laziness; it's an uneducated hipster's attempt to come off sophisticated in describing these sounds to an unassuming outsider--or they're just stupid and think "saxophone = jazz." For those of us who have done our homework, we can recognize that yes, Providence, Rhode Island's Troop of Echoes has some jazzy tendencies, but they are clearly rooted in math rock and other progressive rock offshoots. The music is too tight to be jazz, and if you're paying attention you'll notice that there is very little, if any, improvisation here in these recordings--the blood of jazz. Troop is a band that likes their arrangements to be taut and their melodies to be clear. That's no knock on jazz, and surely the gentlemen in Troop have no pretensions against the genre, either. Instead, they've just happened upon a different musical path.
Their debut album Days in Automation finds them as a unique and enigmatic force in Providence's progressive scene. Their identity is fully formed on the album; a rare feat for debuts. Their keen senses of rhythm, arrangement, dynamics, and Gilli's melodies make them one of the most interesting groups active in the Northeast. As an instrumental rock group, Troop is carrying a largely dead genre on their backs with no struggle at all. Their writing and performances reflect the sound of seasoned pros. In the studio, their ideas are concise and their light touches of avant-garde flourishes are never overbearing or out of place. Unlike many bands, Troop is dedicated to the texture and fabric of the music.
The group's greatest strength is their talent for compelling arrangements. The driving "Providence Public Defender" builds to several climaxes until it's final explosion. What's amazing is how progressive the music is without ever sounding too complicated or too pretentious. In fact, there is a remarkably populist feel to Troop's music in this sense. Where many bands in this vein would try to pawn Radiohead's ideas off as their own, Troop retains their strong sense of identity by eschewing commonplace "experimental" influences like Animal Collective. Many of their Providence contemporaries have dug their heels into willful pretensions or vying for indie stardom, but Troop is a band of the people making smart music for those who've had enough of the fads of the music press.
Instrumentally, the members are all masters of their trades. Gilli's playing is that of an understated virtuoso, focusing on core melodies and yet still able to embellish to get the most of those melodies. And if you're still fishing for that jazz comparison, check out the Coltrane homage "Ascenders," drawing on "Psalm" from his A Love Supreme album. Elsewhere on the album, guitarist Nick Cooper lays down the harmonic foundation for Gilli's leads. Stylistically, Cooper is an incredibly unique player, seemingly updating Andy Summers' jazz guitar influences for alternative rock, and expanding the parameters. Bassist/keyboardist Harrison Hartley is a barnburner on his own, pummeling the lower regions of the mix while occasionally adding some understated synths (and even an organ) to the tunes. Drummer Daniel Moriarty is a profound rock drummer, dancing with time signatures and throwing in crafty fills but never losing his identity as a rock drummer, making him more than just a foundation for the other instruments.
Though instrumental bands often have a hard time pleasing fans who are less inclined to groups without vocals, A Troop of Echoes sense of song will surely win them some unsuspecting fans looking for something a little different that still rocks. Their aforementioned populism will no doubt make them more appealing as well. Days in Automation is easily one of the best debuts to come out in quite some time. It's consistently interesting, and the songwriting stays on point and never once falters. These guys will be ones to watch.
"Days in Automation is easily one of the best debuts to come out in quote some time"
"As an instrumental rock group, Troop is carrying a largely dead genre on their backs with no struggle at all." - I cannot agree that the genre is largely dead or that any one band could carry it on their backs.
This is a good debut, but I wouldn't agree that it's anywhere near as good as this review makes it out to be.