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.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.