Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Rapture- Echoes

I want to begin this review by admitting that when this album first came out, I thought it was absolutely amazing. Dance-punk wasn't a terribly familiar kind of music to most of my generation. At least it wasn't to me; bands like Gang Of Four, Liquid Liquid, and ESG still aren't very popular, that is to say, they aren't some of the more obvious ones that older music fans will point you to when you're starting out. So Echoes came as a revelation, and I'll never forget listening to it in the winter of '03, 'Open Up Your Heart' starting just as snow began to fall when a friend and I were on the way home from going out to eat. It was magic, and the rest of the album was a frenetic throwdown that combined the kinds of music he and I were heavily into: arty punk/post-punk, experimental and otherwise electronic music, and funky dance music.

But with that history in mind, Echoes is an album that I've recently revisited and it doesn't hold up. Perhaps it was the blush of youth, where every new album I heard was exciting and interesting. Perhaps my tastes have changed a bit. Maybe I'm a little bit more keen on spotting something that I think will endure instead of being a momentary, 'capturing a time period well' thing. Or perhaps this album isn't as good as I thought, not a 'classic' though still pretty good.

You know, I'm going to go with that last 'perhaps.'

The Rapture were at the forefront of the dance-punk explosion that took place roughly around 2003, which was sort of concurrent with the freak-folk explosion and slightly after the new garage rock revival thing had begun to die down. As alluded to above, their music combines the energy and raw power of punk, the production techniques and techno beats/bleeps of electronic music, and the booty shaking power of funk. Single 'House Of Jealous Lovers' seemed to speak to everyone, giving us music we didn't really know we wanted. There's no denying the greatness of this song--it'll easily go down as one of the defining tracks for this decade, at least as far as the 'underground' is concerned--but barring a few other gems, the thing I've come to realize is that Echoes is a fun album anchored by a fantastic song and a few great ideas spread out thinly over 11 tracks. Nowadays, Echoes sounds very homogenic, and I usually lose interest by 'Killing.'

This kind of situation, in which one retrospectively realizes an album isn't nearly as good as one thought, happens. It happens a few times to each of us, I think. A band will release a single or two and then eventually have those on their first album and the music press and all the scenesters go crazy for it, praising it to high heaven. I mean seriously, Pitchfork gave this album their 'best of' status for 2003. 2003 wasn't an incredible year for music but still, there were better albums than this. But I digress. In the end, you come to know that whatever was praised so highly, what captured your heart so strongly, doesn't hold up. Echoes is an OK album; it's a fun listen and really good to drive or dance to, but it's not going to go down in history. Other than 'Open Up Your Heart' and 'Infatuation', the album is little more than 9 variations on the sound 'House Of Jealous Lovers' established. It's an excellent song, sure, but I don't need that many things like it. Maybe this is a good thing if, again, you want a peppy, energetic album to groove to, but it doesn't make for a timeless music.

The Rapture face the same problem that many bands do who release a single or album that defines a sub-genre of music: where to go from there?? Too often the new sub-genre attracts a hundred new bands who all sound nearly identical, the 'sound' becoming a homogenized and dogmatic one in the process. Dance-punk is a great starting point, but you've got go somewhere from there. Unfortunately, The Rapture chose to wait 3 years before releasing their next album, by which point no one really cared about them anymore. Moreover, they had trimmed away some of the interesting experimental/punk aspects of their music, effectively making them a white boy indie rock dance band. The only band of the 2003 dance-punk era who seemed to have escaped is Liars, who were always far more 'out there' than the other bands and quickly proved it with their second and third albums. I suppose LCD Soundsystem escaped too by virtue of the fact that they were always much closer to the dance side of the dance-punk equation. Also, with songs as good as those on Sound Of Silver, it wouldn't matter what 'style' you were. that was a classic album, one that'll stand the test of time (probably). Just as most of the hardcore punk bands are a historical curiosity because they didn't go anywhere from super fast, super aggresive punk rock, dance-punk bands will probably go down as a historical curiosity because most of them didn't go anywhere from their starting points, either. As a 'scene' they're important and good, but as individual bands they're forgettable. I'm sure The Rapture's follow-up to Echoes, Pieces of the People We Love, is decent, but I really don't care.

It may seem as if I'm being a bit hard on Echoes, but I like to think of this as more 'correcting the curve.' For what it is and what it's trying to be, it makes for good, fun, danceable music with a handful of fantastic ideas and sounds. Unfortunately, these fantastic ideas and sounds are stretched to fill 11 songs, and anytime I can tell someone they only really need to hear one song ('House Of Jealous Lovers') off a record, I'm a bit reluctant to get too crazy about it. Anyway, Echoes is good but it's not 5 stars, 10 out of 10 good. In the end I just feel...ambivalent about it.

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