ECHO US – Inland Empire

Absolute Probability 2023

Inland Empire

Emerging from a mirage-like past, Portland denizen projects his progressive ephemera onto a tangible reality.

Ethan Matthews has always thrived on understatement, although there was never a suspicion that the American artist was withholding a few threads from each of his records, and in particular from what he perceives as a trilogy for which 2009’s "The Tide Decides" served as a starting point. Over the years, he amassed quite a lot of unissued material – including a number marked “Echo Us” – and, upon recent observation, found the stray tracks phenomenally compatible with each other, to an extent of gelling into a standalone record. Impressive in its ethereality, the almost immaculate “Inland Empire” may, in fact, be the best album credited to this project – one to grasp and allow your mind to get conquered by its melodies.

As interstellar signals propel opener “Across The Star” from barely-there nebulosity to captivatingly orchestral vastness that’s occasionally speared with a silence-busting splash and embroidered with a pseudo-chant and improvisatory ivories of acoustic stripe, shards of magnificence descend upon the listener and turn a strum into a six-string electric flight. Still, the drift is distilled to a flamenco lace, delicate throb and Matthews’ tender voice to weave the gossamer, if tangible, magic of an epic which provided the entire project with a name – or vice versa. The miracle doesn’t fade even after the flow has reached arena scope and spoken word entered the frame, yet the effervescent electronic passages of “Dark Shock” create a way for the piece’s initial waltz to sway away from the serenity of a song and cautiously approach instrumental danger until the pacifying paces of “It’s Time For Winter” warm the aural atmosphere via synthetic lull and pop tune – only to revert to a nervous route through a soaring guitar solo.

Once there, the title track seems to offer a further trip towards cathartic catalepsy but it aims a fragile filigree at the sky instead, Ethan supplying his gently pulsating soundscape with festive toll of bells and solidifying his vocal delivery to contrast the wordless, crystal-clear balladry of “Nest Egg” and brief, incidental narrative of “From The Further Memory” – and give a proper groove to “Far Above The Sky” that will invite the ensemble’s followers to visit a welcoming fairy tale whose riffs and web-like ambience never feel alien. Neither do the tribal rhythms and hypnotic exhortations of “Solarium” or the tentative disco grandeur of “Singing With You” where Matthews comes across as the most blissful performer, albeit his anxiety is never far out of focus.

Where is he supposed to come out of this brilliance remains to be seen.


March 7, 2023

Category(s): Reviews
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