Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tiny Echoes...

Tiny Echoes – Dereliction (self-released; May 28th, 2008)

Here’s an e-mail I got back in May and didn’t read until three weeks ago:

Hi Jimmy,
Not sure if you even take music submissions from unsigned folk, but I thought I'd fire a link your way anyway. I've just finished an album which I have uploaded here. If you get a chance sometime, I'd really appreciate it if you could give it a listen and let me know what you think. It's not long, just over half an hour. Sort of folk-rock, I suppose. I don't really like bios, so I don't have one. But I'm from
N. Ireland, I'm twenty, and everything is bedroom-recorded.

First off, I’m a douche for not seeing this e-mail like seven months ago. Secondly- he’s released an EP since this album, so I’m going to review that too, just to make up for how shitty of a person I can be.

So I followed the download link and I’m listening to it and I’m completely blown away; seriously- you made this in your bedroom? This is an amazing record. You’re only twenty years old? You’ve got more talent now than all the bands on the Billboard Top whatever list. I see your influences all over this album; you’ve properly channeled each and every one without misappropriating them. I’m wishing I had the last seven months to cozy up to this; it’d definitely be on my Top 20 list.

Let’s see now, Northern Ireland… my ancestral homeland, my extended family still lives there, my parents go every few years, when I was a kid my dad used to tell me about the I.R.A. and The Troubles and the hunger strikes and Bloody Sunday. So using that to set the scene; I guess growing up in a once war-torn area has got to have some sort of effect on the collective psyche of the land, right?

And there are traces of that devastation in your music- however subtle your delivery is, the impression you make is laid right down the middle of me like a tire mark, I feel like I’ve been thrown under the wheel of a car driven by its' ghost- slow-moving, haunting and fragile yet densely layered with these phenomenal orchestral string sections- from start to back it’s an album as an actual event; a fully realized and accomplished record that plays end-to-end.

The album begins with the atmospheric No History; just a repeated arpeggio on an ancient sounding guitar, I think I can hear it fret-out a few times- which is why I’ve always had a special fondness in my heart for this type of lo-fi bedroom recording. The stellar Oceans Of Ash is stark and jagged; a distorted buzz-saw guitar inserted into the mix at just the perfect level cuts a serrated path into my ears, any louder and it may have affected the overall tone of the song, rendering it grunge-worthy. But it serves as a foil to contradict the soft acoustics; like a wall of sound that’s completely unobtrusive as a backdrop, segueing back into a far-away sounding freak-out jam that, again, fits perfectly.

Everywhere At Once has the finest lyrical couplets on the record: "I disconnect the telephone, there's no one else I wanna hear speak / 'cause I remember how you told me once that talk was so cheap / it hurts to say it but I feel like I should explain / that I'd run home on broken legs just to speak to you again... all those lonely nights when the stars are too far to see / it's like you're everywhere at once, all around me..."

Then there's Where Did The Night Go?, another excellent track; a slow-moving torch song that sounds like a neglected carousel wheel begging to be oiled. Sparse and booming drums move the song along, although they appear muddy in the mix - which works exactly as it's supposed to for the song to develop, and again there's the distorted buzz-saw guitar towards the end- I can't get over how well it sounds when it really shouldn't. The album's production, whatever was used- I'm thinking a Tascam 8-track (?) is absolutely perfect; capturing the vibe with precision.

A Forgotten Lie is the next track, and again; another solid attempt at harnessing the ambiance- both sweet and creepy. There are ghosts as well as angels in your music, Stephen. And Their Voices is the easiest song to pigeon-hole into a genre, it's a somber as well as emotive alt-country ditty. Double-tracked vocals, hand drummed percussion, subtle synth-strings and an acoustic guitar is all that’s needed here to convey the point.

The album’s coup de grace would be the finale, Into Oblivion. All I can say is wow. I love when an album leaves on a high-point, leaving the listener begging for more- with its faintly layered orchestrations, the finely woven loud-soft-loud/verse-chorus-bridge interplay and that distorted wall of sound re-appearing once again, it’s a skillful display of both songwriting and production I’ve heard on a self-recorded album since ______. (I promised myself I would write this review without making any comparisons, so listen for yourself and you draw your own conclusions…)

I'm noticing that I've used a lot of adjectives in this review; so I'll try to sum it up with this glowing recommendation- if you like melancholic, heart-felt, lo-fi acoustic folk-rock, this is a pretty awesome example of how it should be done.

Desolation EP (self-released; November 28th, 2008)

This EP acts as a four-song component piece, released shortly after the completion the Dereliction album, and it’s a much more polished and refined offering. The maturation of Tiny Echoes’ sound offers promise, although he hints on his blog that he’s going to go in a different direction (white-boy rap? Hopefully he’s joking- stick to what works, please!)

The third track (and centerpiece to the EP); Hospital Bed, is another song that employs Tiny Echoes' "wall of sound" technique, building to a huge crescendo at around the five-minute mark and holding you there for almost a solid minute until he brings you down into a beautiful bells-and-string break and then lifting you back into the crashing waves of drums and strings and guitars- it's a seven-and-a-half minute jam that held my attention throughout, imploring repeated listens.

I wish I discovered these records earlier, and to think that they were waiting for me in my inbox- I used to brag that I never checked my e-mail. Yeah, those days are over...

To hear his music and download his albums for free, go to

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