Checking For Echo 2021
Scottish virtual band weave an array of compelling yarns for vulnerable souls to latch onto and fly away.
A few years ago, having been struck with an ailment that affected his lungs, multi-instrumentalist Jon Farley may have moved from one Scottish region to another in search of fresher air, yet the veteran didn’t enshroud himself emotionally and launched this project – with a prospect of raising money for various charities. It was easy to perceive the small collective’s 2020 debut “The War Is Never Won” as a somewhat hermetic effort, focused on a single theme and benefitting a cancer hospice which cared for a member of Jon’s family – the unit behind the record – but “Life & Other Short Stories: Vol. 1” is different: much more opened, wider-ranging and gathering funds for a couple of music non-profits.
While there’s no silver lining to these little stories, their delivery is golden, Farley’s vocal silence enabling a stellar array of songstresses provide a feminine sensitivity and also take over the narrative on most of the pieces, with Suzi James’ guitars soaring and flitting across the record’s panorama. That’s what turns a few unexpected cover choices into the ensemble’s own pieces and the originals’ tragedy into a triumph – serene on the surface, if inherently deeply disturbing. As a result, “Stillborn” could hit much harder had it not been also wrapped, or even drowned in a velvet soundscape out of which Clare Shorthouse Fowler’s voices emerge soaring over a delicate heartbeat-like groove Farley’s sculpting to create an uplifting edifice, shaping a paean to life, before electric strings and ivories unleash a melodious assault and ebb away, allowing orchestral creepiness to reign supreme and get echoed later on in the cinematic “Seen But Never Heard” whose organ-filled solemnity and Martin Haggarty’s spiritual chant are mesmerizing.
So though the group’s take on FROST*’s “Saline” seems understandably morose, driven by Jon’s piano passages, Yael Shotts’ pipes shoot the ballad through with vibrant vitality, until heavy riffs undercut this flight, and mystic Celtic motifs warm up “The Big Issue” where Michael Brown’s harmonies shimmer, shining a light on the homeless’ plight. Given a more rarefied air, “When Tomorrow Comes” opens a portal into optimistic future, and instrumental reverie “Just Making Shore” descends to the ground, yet Jon’s wife Lisa is directing the dream of IQ’s "Red Dust Shadow" towards gloom again and giving its ethereal nightmare a tangible edge. However, “What About Us?” sees Beck Kelley spreading romantic message all around and bounce lyrics off Farley’s keyboards, and a version of LONG EARTH’s “My Suit Of Armour” lets Andy Nixon bare the band’s human vulnerability. And once all the singers arrive on the album’s title track, bringing the flow to a close via spoken word, the listener’s aching psyche will be healed – thanks to the echo that’s always there.