We get lots of promo CDs, a fact which often seems very odd to me since we basically started this whole EvilSponge thing because we were a bunch of music geeks who liked discussing different records, and not people with any sort of training. Nonetheless, i probably have 100 or so CDs sitting in my living room, in various stages of promo-ness. There are a few different things that happen to these promos:
- Some i listen to once, say "Oh hell no" and throw it in one stack that periodically gets taken to my local CD purveyor, where they refuse to buy any of these CDs by artists they have never heard of. Not that i blame them for that refusal.
- Some promos are immediately handed out to some reviewer, either because the artist mentioned them, or that reviewer has reviewed that artist before, or because the crack team at EvilSponge HQ determines that this person will most likely enjoy the CD (or that the reviewer in question needs "to take one for the team").
- But most of the promos get stuffed on a shelf and languish in a half-listened state for a long time, until my residual Catholic guilt weighs on me and i pull them down and give them a proper listen or two. Often, these CDs then end up in the first stack. Sometimes they go into a "maybe someday when i am feeling generous" stack. And sometimes, i find that they are genuinely delightful.
Dead Leaf Echo recently played a concert in their native New York that my buddy Plaintiger went to see. I think they were opening for some other band, but he told me he thought i would like them. He sent a link, and when i looked at the picture of the EP cover on their MySpace i had the sudden thought, "We have this in the promo pile!" So i dug through the never-ending stream of sensitive female singer-songwriters and "alternative rock" bands that sound just like Radiohead to find this EP. I was immediately impressed, and after several listens i have grown to really like the band.
The thing is, for some reason on first listen i was not impressed. I don't know why, but sometimes that happens. Many records take a few listens to get in to, and i do not know why that is. I do know that often such records do not make it here at EvilSponge HQ, where listening time is limited, and if you bore me the first spin, you might never get a second. Unless, that is, some external circumstance directs me back to the promo in question.
So anyway, Dead Leaf Echo are, or rather were, a two-piece act consisting of drummer Alligator Joe, and vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/bassist LG. ( I guess he plays so many instruments he could not afford a full name, plus they blew the whole "naming budget" on a cool name for the drummer!) Assisting are Liza Baker, who sings on a few tracks, and Mike Dilalla, who adds guitar on one track. At least, that is the lineup on this EP. According to the MySpace, old Alligator Joe is gone (presumably back to the swamps) and Dilalla and Baker are full-time band members. Whatever.
The music here is engaging, all the more so if you consider that most of what you hear is just LG. Practically by himself he manages to create a lovely new wave sound. This is an EP of vaguely mopey tunes, with clear vocals and chiming guitars. It is very good for what it is. LG has a really nice voice, with a hint of richness, and it vaguely reminds me of, well, Simple Minds. Vaguely. The songs are all pretty good too. There are 6 here, so let's examine each.
The EP starts off with Clean, which features some really great rhythms. Alligator Joe is beating his kit like crazy, and LG's bass work reminds me a lot of Lorelei Plotczyk's work on the last Film School record. This is a good rocking start to things.
Poison Lips starts off with a drum and bass jam reminiscent of The Pixies, before the guitar comes in, heavily echoed. Again, the pacing here is great -- a fun new wave dance tune.
Drums start off Walking Away as well, here a deep thundering, with LG mumbling in the background, adding a bit of texture before his vocals and guitar kick in. This moves at a really fast pace, and sounds almost like something that For Against would have done in about 1988. Good stuff.
The next track, Shell of Love starts with heavily effected guitar, LG channeling some Yellow6 in his playing here, as he sings plaintively. This is a lovely ballad, slow and pretty. Ms. Baker sings in the background, her voice never fully out front, but still a nice accompaniment to LG's singing.
Now, up to this point, all of the tracks have been around four minutes long. That's not unexpected really, since four minutes is pretty much the standard for pop music. However, track five, Denial is an epic clocking in at almost seven and a half minutes. In fact, this is the song featuring Mr. Dilalla, who is credited with "ambient guitar". This is a truly great track, starting off slow and ambient, with layers of chiming guitar and LG really wailing away, and then it builds to a slow crescendo with Alligator Joe playing his kit lightly, Ms. Baker singing along, and the guitars cascading over each other in layers of distortion. It's not noisy per se, but there is a lot of sound going on. Really nice.
Finally, the EP ends with a remix of Shell of Love done by Invisible Kid. He adds some vaguely interesting beats and lots of echo to the tune, making it a funky ambient piece. Nice enough i suppose.
There is about a half hour of music here, and all of it is pretty worthwhile. I am jealous that Plaintiger got to see these guys -- i guess living in the metro NYC area does have its benefits… I would think that this stuff is even more interesting live, and i bet that Dead Leaf Echo would be great on a bill with Film School. Both bands mine similar territory, albeit in slightly different ways.
The final lesson here is this: sometimes a CD deserves a second (or even a third) listen, even if it does not grab you at first listen. Depth is something that you, the listener, sometimes have to work to appreciate. And if you can find something lovely, it's worth it, no matter how many listens it takes.