Our readers may think they are seeing double: just as individual members of string quintet BOW, reviewed here last month, Echo Collective has worked with A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Jóhann Jóhannsson. There’s even a bit of cross-pollination between Echo Collective and BOW. And while nothing will be able to fill the void left by Jóhannsson, his enduring influence continues to be a welcome force.
How to tell BOW and Echo Collective apart? That’s an easy one. While each features strings, the latter adds harp and magnetic resonance piano, a new instrument still in prototype phase. The majesty and grandeur of this LP is a direct product of this new combination of instruments.
Echo Collective sets its own course by avoiding big melodic themes in favor of subtle shifts and slow movement. It’s only fitting that the cover and Florian Guibert’s video for lead single “The Witching Hour” portray glaciers and pack ice. The only reason we’re not calling it winter music is because it’s not conceived as winter music, but the tone is perfect for long, contemplative nights. Gradations of mood are reflected in the transition from ice blue to white, and intellectual reflection by piano and openings in the snow. Something cold is breaking apart. And yet by any definition it remains cold. When the glacier starts to crumble, one feels a sense of loss, adrift on lonely iceberg strings as the cello tugs with the weight of gravity. Is this a commentary of climate change, or music of the heart? The dividing line is impossible to spot.
The album title and brief, harp-centered title track imply an inward journey, a soul searching, an unflinching inventory. The idea is ancient, but has fallen out of popularity in an era of volume and finger-pointing. The See Within is the antithesis to modern bluster, requiring time and attention: two treasures short at hand. In keeping with this theme, the standout track, “Respire,” is also the album’s longest at 10:54. Perhaps the visual themes of snow and ice are influences, but the slow progression is reminiscent of the first Antarctic explorers, a musical metaphor now applied to the mind. Are we bold enough to see within? Over time, nuances are revealed like shades of white. The track possesses no large, cathartic payoff, but hints of a brighter future, brought to fruition in the closing piece, “First Brightening.” If we’re stuck in our current situation, unable to change our outward circumstances, perhaps the inner world is the place to pursue progress. (Richard Allen)