Eastern Conference Champions need to finish and release their forthcoming album, Speah-AHH, as soon as possible, and it needs to be great. I say this both because I love their music and think they're capable of even more than these EPs demonstrate and because they're in danger of falling prey to 'Whatever Happened To Them?' syndrome. The band is best known for appearing on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack, rubbing elbows with acts of much greater renown and acclaim. Lest they turn into one of those bands whose name you don't recognize on popular soundtrack albums, they need to capitalize on this pseudo-fame and deliver the goods. Anyway, enough career advice...
The Santa Fe EP was released last Fall after Eastern Conference Champions left a major label record deal as well as replaced a band member. Judging by this music, however, they're all the better for it. Despite the annoying cardboard packaging, I found myself returning to this EP again and again as it's been lying around my apartment. The singer sounds like someone who started out imitating Thom Yorke of Radiohead but has now developed his own quirky, nasally indie rock style. He still has that sense of power and grandeur that Yorke does but it's been tempered with restraint and personality. The music, meanwhile, goes from sounding like a fuzzed out power-trio take on indie rock ('Common Sense') to a less classic rock-y Built To Spill ('Bloody Bells') to a less groovey, more harmonica-y take on Spoon circa Girls Can Tell ('Silo'). As a kind of re-introduction of where Eastern Conference Champions were as of last Fall and where they could go, it's as impressive and enjoyable as you could hope for without entering the realm of landmark EPs like TV On The Radio's Young Liars.
Since the band's Speak-AHH album was still unfinished a year later, they decided to record an acoustic EP to tide fans over (and possibly also to take a break from the sessions for the album). The cover art and title are just plain bad, yet the music on Akustiks is, if anything, even more impressive than Santa Fe. By setting aside the indie rock power-trio style, they prove themselves to be shockingly adept at trying out the more beardy and more-liable-to-wear-flannel-unironically style of the hipster/indie rock scene. Which overlaps with my taste, so I guess what I'm trying to say is, this EP is great: these folksy songs showcase the band's softer side as well as their songwriting chops. 'Bristol Road' and 'Timeline' feature vocal harmonies lovely enough to begin approaching indie standard bearers like Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes, if a bit less powerhouse than the latter, and the pedal steel guitar used on a few of the tracks reminds me of what I wish Band Of Horses had gone for on their second and third albums. The harmonica is also a great touch and leaves me hoping they carry over some of Akustiks' instrumentation over to the forthcoming album. While I would never claim ECC have the most original sound, the strong hooks and songwriting of the buoyant 'Summertime' and the grooving, headlong rush of 'Single Sedative' make originality somewhat irrelevant. I would go so far as to say that I hope they have electric versions of these two songs on Speak-AHH since I'd hate to see them relegated to an EP that many people may never hear.
Ah, but that's music (and independent music especially) for you. The true test of this band, like so many others in the past, will be their new, post-brush-with-fame album. Judging by these two EPs, though, it's more a case of anticipation than it is doubt or worry, at least on my part. Since they're an indie rock band with a lone female member who isn't their bassist, and they successfully pulled off an acoustic EP, I have great faith in Eastern Conference Champions.