Metropia is almost a bold second step for Echo Island, the instrumental electronic solo project of local musician Brad Hawes. This EP, which contains six new songs and two remixes, reprises some of the solid habits established on Echo Island's debut album, In Circles, which came out earlier this year.
Hawes, who is still pretty new to songwriting, crafts sleek synth hooks, surrounds them with convincingly moody swells and grounds them in sturdy rock rhythms. (He's a drummer, after all.) But on a couple of tracks, including "Elevator," there's a glimmer of something new.
By billing Metropia as a "soundtrack for a city," Hawes nods to Brian Eno, who began his explorations in ambient music with an album called Ambient 1: Music For Airports. Metropia's opening track, "Penthouse," introduces a bit of that ambient touch to Echo Island's sound.
My one complaint about In Circles was that, while well made and ambitiously layered, it didn't really seek out a lot of distinctive synth tones or adventurous textures. That's true on some of Metropia, but with an important difference. The dynamics here are a bit more porous: Instead of just stacking synth parts on top of one another, Hawes makes them subtly bleed together.
"Elevator" seems to start with audio of someone catching said elevator and heading toward his or her floor, but it turns the ascent or descent into a stolen moment of almost lonesome serenity. There is a coherent hook here -- reminiscent of the cheerful, arpeggiated ones Hawes used so effectively on In Circles -- but, like almost everything else in the song, it creeps into and out of the spotlight, skipping over the top of the mix and then quietly disappearing into the background. Even the snap of Hawes' snare drum lingers in the distance.
Like the other tracks on Metropia, this one tries to immerse itself in the mundane and everyday. (Other track titles include "Lounge," "Drive," "Billboard" and "Neon.") Perhaps this recording could shoot for Eno's airport a little more daringly, but "Elevator" hints that Echo Island's music can develop nuances without losing its accessible, catchy strengths.
Echo Island will perform at the Dragonfly Lounge on Saturday, Jan. 5.
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