Pelican: City of Echoes

If Pelican didn't try playing the reinvention card, City of Echoes would sound like a solid effort from a great band.


City of Echoes

Label: Hydra Head
US Release Date: 2007-06-05
UK Release Date: Available as import

By claiming reinvention, or drastic evolution, upon the release of a new album, a band can really hamstring themselves. Fair or not, it places a set of expectations on the listener that perhaps wouldn't be there otherwise. Sometimes the claim pays off, and the band has moved forward and improved, but often the drastic change card makes for a disappointing album not because the album is bad, but because it isn't "different" enough from previous material. Whatever that means.

And so it is with Pelican's new record, City of Echoes. Free of any pre-release claims, it is a solid, energetic and intricate record from a band that can play the hell out of some prog-post-whatever-you'd-call-it-metal. However, since the band insists this is a drastic new direction for them, and it doesn't really sound like that, the album feels more hemmed in and unoriginal than it actually is.

The biggest problem is that much of the "reinvention" hype is based on the album's most superficial element. City of Echoes has been tagged as both the band's "straight rock" record and its "pop" record. And while an argument can be made for the former (an argument that, consequently, works against the idea of evolution), the "pop" elements found on the record seem to imply that pop music is tame. Of course, the best pop music is, in one or another, decidedly not tame. But Pelican uses "pop" elements only as flat contrasts to their loud guitar attack. The opening of the title track sounds like some middling college rock before it busts into what Pelican does best. And while other songs are more successful at the fusion of metal with pop stylings, most notably the shoegaze-leaning "Spaceship Broken -- Parts Needed", mostly the "pop" on the record come off as an unnecessary beard.

The more concrete change on the record is concision. Only one song goes over seven minutes, and the chiseled-down sound works for them. These songs have a focus to them that makes them sound like there's more at stake on this record than previous Pelican albums. Where The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw was bigger and more sprawling, the 40 or so minutes of City of Echoes prefer to move away from the idea of space as tension to a more immediate impact.

And while the album might imply some strange ideas about pop music, it does dispel a common and misguided idea about metal as a whole. Pelican, like any good metal band, composes songs that are never as simple as they initially sound. They write intricate songs where instruments conflict as much as they come together. The guitar work of Laurent Schroeder-Lebec and Trevor de Brauw, which is as good as its ever been on City of Echoes, is full of as much bickering and counter-play as it is two simultaneous blasts. And it is that intricacy of composition and emotion that negates the idea that metal is always, and simply, about anger.

Metal is a music far too complex (when done right, of course) to be reduced in such a way. It is just as outrageous as saying pop music is simply about love, which of course it isn't. In either case, to make such a claim is to deny that things like love and anger, when used in art, are usually springboards into much deeper, much murkier questions. Pelican, and a good deal of other metal bands understand this, so while anger may be an element of metal, it is not what the genre is all about, and City of Echoes is no exception.

What the album could use, however, is maybe an amping-up of the metal. For all its tries at different sounds, and this ill-fated "pop" notion, the non-metal parts sound more often than not like metal that is trying not to be metal. The acoustic-driven "Winds with Hands" sounds like a demo of some ass-kicking prog-metal to be recorded later. And in the quiet closer "A Delicate Sense of Balance", the ham-handed drumming belies the band's encoded penchant for rocking hard.

Pelican is a solid band, and >City of Echoes is an energetic and exciting record when the band isn't trying to sound like something it isn't. Innovation is not a bad thing, but neither is playing to your strengths.







How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.


Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.


Titan to Tachyons' Experimental Heaviness on Full Display via "Earth, And Squidless" (premiere)

Featuring current members of Imperial Triumphant, Titan to Tachyons break incredible new ground in the realm of heavy music.


Jerry Leger Teams with Moby Grape's Don Stevenson for "Halfway 'Til Gone" (premiere)

Reminiscent of Lee Hazlewood and the Everly Brothers, Jerry Leger's "Halfway 'Til Gone" is available on all streaming platforms on 6 August.


The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.