With this being my first experience with Echo Bloom and their music, I am considerably awed by the never-ending beauty and power of the lyrical writing and eclectic arrangement of instrumentals in Blue Shift. An incredible, fun, humbling, emotional performance, Blue Shift illustrates what band-leader, guitarist and song-writer Kyle Evans terms “folk-estral” music. Intoning lyrics rich with biblical allusions– lending the album a subtle, overarching theme of personal spirituality– and backed by a variety of instruments such as the oboe, violin and banjo, this live performance album is articulately and fantastically arranged, a truly magical experience. My review accordingly follows the nine songs performed live, which you can view as individual videos here.
Leading with a performance of “Fireworks,” Echo Bloom begins their poetic, performance journey with a truthful song that compares the beauty and brevity of life to a firework. Growing throughout the song from a single guitar and voice to include the orchestral variety of instruments (piano, violins, french horns, cello, bass), this song will have you running through an equally large symphony of emotional responses: a contentedness felt only when you truly relax and live within the moment; and an uncomfortable, strange combination of a tingling hope and helpless anxiety for both the future and quick passing of time.
Shifting to a more romantic style — in the common and literary use of the word — “Seeds” croons the gradual reunion of a couple and their individual, corporal return to the land where they will forever become one and be fruitful. Soft and sweet, this guitar-driven harmony between Kyle and Aviva has more power than most other tales or songs of romance I have encountered recently.
“The Annunciation” follows, sounding like a mountaintop hymn and invoking throughout it imagery of rebirth. Presumably the opening song of their live performance for it is grandiose in style, “The Annunciation” is an epic of one man’s evening journey. Wholly inspiring, this powerful track will leave you wanting to (spiritually) re-explore this magical, despairing, hopeful world of ours.
By far my favorite song on the album, “Cedar Beach” is absolutely beautiful in a melancholic way. Without wanting to ruin the poetic ending of the song, Echo Bloom covers in a light, floating, orchestral sound, one man’s self-discovery in an encounter with destiny.
With a folksy appeal and happier feel, like a song whispered across the wind and echoed in a copse, “Veins” begins as a banjo- and guitar-driven track, blooming into the band’s fuller, orchestral sound. Seen through the eyes of one man, “Veins” is a tale of unselfish cohabitation on Earth, which Echo Bloom has accordingly created and echoed in a symphonic harmony.
“Blue,” the following track, is a dreamy, sweetly saddening, undulating melody regarding the ever-present danger of slipping through life, our memories included. A deep, ranging, emotional track, this is one of those songs that has truly isolated and recreated a deep, forgotten emotion. Powerful enough to change your mood, listen to this track on those slow introspective days, when you are feeling nostalgic or contemplative.
“The Prostitute,” a country-esque reflection of a love lost and the despairing days to follow, follows as the seventh clip in their live performance. Sounding like an echo which would easily haunt the hollowed character they created, this track begins as an acoustic-driven, harmony between Kyle and Aviva, leading gradually into an unexpected, but well-placed (in terms of arrangement) bluesy, electric guitar instrumental. After an acoustic heavy set of songs, this electric, old country styled song is refreshing and rejuvenating.
A testament to the necessity of faith, the following track swiftly moves between quick, folksy, Appalachian vibes to an auroral, symphonic style, to a subdued piano-driven melody. “The Flood” is another wonderful, biblical ballad- specifically about Noah and the building of the ark- on Blue Shift that you cannot help but love.
Aptly, “The Returning of the Doves,” regarding the story about the dove which returns to Noah’s ark with an olive leaf, concludes the album. Eerie — vocally and musically, what with the prominent inclusion of a cello, occasional insertion of an organ, and eventually the addition of a gritty electric guitar — heavier, and more gothic than all the preceding tracks, this track is a strong, provocative, cliff-hanging finish.
Blue Shift is an unforgettable folk album that will ultimately appeal to fans of Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and all those in between. Incredible every track of the way, Blue Shift has left me in eager anticipation of Evans’ next genre-conceptual albums: Red, a country-rock album, and Green, a more classic pop album. As for now, Evans offers that Echo Bloom will never be wholly finished with any album, providing us fortunate listeners a glimpse into how music changes for its creators over time: “Art isn’t ever really done, it just gets taken away from you at some point. At that moment it’s frozen in time. Blue Shift is the breathing snapshot of what Blue is turning into.” For more information about Echo Bloom and Blue Shift, you can read my interview with band-leader Kyle Evans below.
GO: What is the inspiration behind this album?
KE: Music’s kind of a weird form of art, because unlike something like literature you have to be able to both write AND perform your work. The versions of albums we end up hearing and loving are usually these sculptures that are whittled out of hours of material and months of work. But then after that crafted recording is released you start playing those songs live and they quickly become something quite different. A live album is like a breathing snapshot of what a set of work looks like in real life. Think of it like the difference between the version of the more manicured version of themselves that people present on Facebook and the real person that lives and walks around. I constructed our album Blue over a year, and in some cases we know the songs a lot better now than when we originally recorded it. So Blue Shift is a way for us to share where that stuff is at now.
GO: When you were first creating Blue, what were you looking to create- what kind of feeling or sound? Did it start like how we hear it today, or has it evolved?
KE: I went to Germany to write the songs and arrangements for Blue, and I only took a few records to try to really limit my sphere of influence. My world became Pet Sounds (The Beach Boys), Ys (Joanna Newsom), and Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon and Garfunkel). A lot of the arrangements were coming from that core of work. I wanted to create a sonic space that was orchestral and lush, with big harmonies and textures, but everything deriving from basic folk songs. It was a sound I heard in my head, and I wanted to figure out how to get that into reality. So when I came back from Germany I had written a full score for the album – every string part, every vocal line. so while recording everything took a while it wasn’t particularly complicated, and it ended up being pretty similar to what I was hearing. The live album is a completely different story.
GO: Did performing the songs from Blue for the live album Blue Shift change the feeling or energy of the songs for you?
KE: Wildly. The record Blue was really specific – everything was scored out. We used that score as a base, and added to it. There was a lot more improvisation and a LOT more percussion. Some songs became faster, some became slower. And recording and performing in front of a live audience undeniably adds energy to everything.
GO: Do you have a song that’s particularly close to the heart from this album?
KE: The live version of Veins ended up being really exciting live. There’s some time stretched audio that lays out at the end and in the recorded version that takes center stage. In the live version on Blue Shift I asked the string section to improvise over that, and it’s pretty beautiful.
GO: I saw on your website that Echo Bloom is a play on the phrase “Echo Boom.” What particularly led you to adopt this as your band name?
KE: We were a gardening family growing up and I’ve got fond memories of playing in the dirt as a kid, watching beans and squash and other vegetables grow. So in addition to the play on words, the name reminds me of that, which I like.
GO: Who and what has influenced your music?
KE: Lately I’ve been influenced more by painting than by other music. A friend gave me a yearly pass to MoMA, so I’ve been taking my lunch there usually once a week. I always end up in the Rothko and Water Lilies rooms, look up close to the paintings and then looking from further back. It makes me think of the different layers of songs – the root of things is the folk song, acoustic instrument and voice. That’s the raw subject matter of the painting. Then the production and the arrangement are the style. Is it this gauzy haze or is it more stoic and straight? The actual realization is the beauty of the brushstrokes – something you can listen to up close, and equally appreciate from afar.
GO: Had music always been the plan?
KE: I thought I wanted to be an architect for a while. I was really inspired by the Modulor system of Le Corbusier, and some of the ideas in the Bauhaus school. But architecture isn’t populist – music is the great folk art of our time, and that resonates more with where I am artistically.
GO: Have you seen your musical direction changing since forming?
KE: Every time I write a song I learn a different way of doing it, and the same applies with albums and recordings. I think I’ve become more comfortable with collaborating and doing things quickly. The idea of slowly crafting something for years isn’t something I’ll return to soon. I’m more attracted to the idea of setting up arrangement notes, creating a defined palette, cache of colors, and frame, and letting a group of really talented people help me color it in.
GO: If you were to describe Echo Bloom in a simple word choice, what would you say?
KE: Hmmm – simple word choice. Does that mean a binary choice? How about: Echo Bloom – sound or vision. Story and shape. You and me. Color and movement.
GO: Do you and your bandmates share or have other hobbies besides, obviously, making music?
KE: Tons. I’m a big camper, and really like backpacking (I’m an Eagle scout, so I spent a fair amount of my youth outside). Jason Mattis (our bass player) is a pretty serious mountain biker. Aviva Jaye (our keyboardist and alto vocalist) sees about every movie that comes out and spends a lot of time volunteering, because she’s basically an incredible person. Josh Grove (our electric guitarist) is a guitar maker, so he makes his own instruments from scratch. Steve Sasso (our banjo player and a tenor vocalist) has pursued standup comedy in the past. Everybody plays with lots of people – we keep really busy.
GO: What’s your favorite memory of your musical journey so far?
KE: Finishing the live performance of Blue Shift, and seeing the entire thing come together into this big beautiful thing, was this really climactic, wonderful experience. Most of the time things like that are over as soon as they happen, but because we videotaped the entire thing I’ve been reliving that for the last 8 months while I was editing everything.
GO: What are your hopes for Echo Bloom in the near future?
KE: We’re going to Europe in the Fall, assuming our crowd-funding campaign gets there. We won a contest given out by this German record label, who’s booked us on a 28 date tour of Germany, Holland, and Belgium. It’s going to be a huge step for us as a band. Outside of that future, I’ve got a hazy plan to do a song-for-song covers project of the Anthology of American Folk Music, with each song being a collaboration with a new local musician. I’ll get to that someday!
GO: Do you have any upcoming shows that we can look forward to?
KE: We’ll be playing The Bitter End in New York in July, and then in Massachusetts in August. We play in NYC and DC pretty frequently — and you can always check our show schedule at http://www.echobloom.com/live/
GO: Do you have any additional thoughts you would like to add?
KE: Thanks for the thoughtful questions, and for the support! If anybody’s interested in helping us get to Europe, we’re running a crowd-funding campaign at www.pledgemusic.com/projects/echo-bloom-european-tour/ (and every little bit helps!). I’m also really passionate about the campaign to abolish the death penalty in the US, and would encourage people to look at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty at http://www.ncadp.org/.
Katie Lebert currently works as an Associate Editor for the Gadfly, feeling all too mature with herself now that she has the chance to dress up on a daily basis. Going into her fourth and final year at the University of Virginia as an Anthropology major, Katie hopes to work for a non-profit organization and continue writing after she graduates. In her spare time, Katie voraciously reads the books she finds at her local Goodwill.