We’re aware that this album may split audiences. Last year, some of our readers were appalled that we liked We Stood Like Kings’ new score for Koyaanisqatsi. This adaptation is even more assertive: an all-instrumental version of Radiohead’s Amnesiac. Echo Collective‘s version succeeds on many levels, the most surprising is that it stands on its own.
We obviously love instrumental music, but we’re also occasional Radiohead fans. This being said, one can’t listen to Amnesiac without focusing on the soaring tones of Thom Yorke; and lyrics such as “cut the kids in half” make an impact that is hard to erase. Amnesiac was hugely successful, but exists in the shadow of Kid A, with whom its recording sessions were shared. It’s never shaken the charge, fair or unfair, of being an “inferior” album. This makes it ripe for reinterpretation. Add the fact that a lot of time has passed since the summer of 2001; it’s probable that many of our readers have never listened to the original album, freeing them to judge Echo Collective Plays Amnesiac on its own merits.
The seven-strong collective makes a convincing case for the instrumental world, swapping parts of the originals with new protagonists, bassoon taking the first lead on “Packd Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box.” The piece is just as percussive and thrilling as it was in its initial incarnation, although now one is able to see into its innards and realize its formerly hidden complexity. The album’s jazz flavors first emerge in “Pyramid Song” and are evident all the way through “Life in a Glasshouse.” How did we miss all this before? Or are we hearing it again for the first time?
Echo Collective aims not to replace source material, but to enhance it. This may end up being their niche, as earlier this year they teamed with Erasure for an orchestral (yet vocal) reimagining of their last album. “Knives Out” is particularly effective, as the heights of the violin match those of Yorke’s voice while the cello spreads across the sound field like lava. “Morning Bell/Amnesiac” adopts a slightly quicker pace, while “Hunting Bears” is melded to “Spinning Plates,” the latter losing its electronic mask in the process.
All too often, and for myriad reasons, we wish for an instrumental version of an album. This one has come through. Similar enough to be respectful and different enough to be original, Echo Collective Plays Amnesiac makes an impact all its own. (Richard Allen)