ARTIST: SPC ECO
RELEASE DATE: 22nd August 2107
RECORD COMPANY: ELaB Records
It seems like only yesterday I was sitting down to give a listen to the latest release by legendary producer Dean Garcia and his daughter Rose Berlin aka SPC ECO. The release in question was 'Under My Skin' and it was awarded a 5/5 by yours truly; a feat not so easy to come by. Garcia and Berlin had come together to create something as dark as it was beautiful: ethereal vocal performances were combined with shadow-filled synth passages and lyrics, all topped off neatly with drum programming and a crisp clean production. When I heard that the duo were releasing a follow up full length album (entitled Calm) I thought two things: one, it will great to see what SPC ECO have churned out this time, and two, could they keep together over the length of an album? There was only one way to find out, I guess?
'Calm' opens with the MBV shoegaze-influenced fuzz of ‘Out of Sight’: its deep and rumbling walls of static back up Berlin's siren-like calls and humming. Behind the mix, Garcia twists knobs and presses buttons to give the music a focal point, hip-hop like beats guiding the rest of the instrumentation and music along slowly. Although it is a fantastic 90’s-ish track and perhaps even an album highlight, there is something blaringly obvious: this is going to be much denser, louder and wild than 'Under My Skin' (not that that is a bad thing). Somehow Berlin and Garcia follow an album highlight with yet another album highlight: the slower, but still as dense, ‘All the Voices’ utilizes a breathy performance by Berlin, backed up by a borderline industrial soundscape of the instruments behind. All the while as the track plays, brilliant ambiance and drone seeps in through the mix, making things heavier and more beautiful. ‘Rising Up’ stands as another absolutely fantastic track: the guitars again create a wall of technical fuzz and feedback, a drum beat again guides the music, but it's vocals are perhaps the most haunting found on the entire release. Things turn into some sort of wildly dark and exotically evocative dance party: equipped with songs you can dance to and songs you can have a neon-lit knife to at the same time.
‘All I Had’ captures a slower and a somewhat more sensual vocal performance by Berlin; meanwhile Garcia turns things down to a trip hop level, creating a mix of loud, noise filled dream pop-esque music. It's placement on the albums track list is also ace. Perhaps my favourite song on the entire album is the stellar ‘Pearls’ in which the vocals and instruments meet in a beautiful kind of harmonic pairing to create a downtrodden afterthought of dream pop. It’s an emotive mixture of contemplative ponderings and long winded passages of sun covered beaches with the texturally white backing of clouds amongst a blue sky. ‘Who Are You Now?’ is, however, much, much darker… Somewhat evil as well I guess. Its slow trip-hop inspired drum beat is accompanied with a creepy sample of bottles clanging together or something? Ambiance and atmospheric strings also add to the landscape even more thoroughly. ‘Ghosts’ is where things start to taste a little over-done: another slow tempo drum beat with breathy vocals make this song one of the more forgettable on 'Calm'. The more upbeat and soundscape inspired ‘When It Moves’ turns things back around, thankfully, injecting some of the elements that made previous tracks an invigorating , engaging and unique listening experience. ‘Get Lost’ is another album highlight, especially its massive, hi-hat trap inspired chorus, which underpins a sweep of ambiance and sampled noise over another brilliant vocal performance by Rose Berlin. Garcia truly turns up the ambiance on this track, weaving thin and slow instrumental sections with larger and more heavier passages of more colourful sounds.
‘Over’ seems to feature the most heavy percussion on the release: the programming with which the band uses is as thick and heavy as ever before. Behind the beats and vocals lies a bizarrely enjoyable sneaking sound of what could be the introductory music to a British detective series, full of rain, shadows and the occasional dash of neon lights. ‘Hours’ seeps all the atmospheric reverb, noise and ambiance into one melting pot of music; creating a dense and somewhat murky soundscape with which the song plays out. Berlin's voice fits well within the context of this kaleidoscopic tornado of sound, proving her graceful voice is a positive point of originality for SPC ECO.
While some elements of 'Under My Skin' (and perhaps SPC ECO themselves) are evident on 'Calm' (think the atmospheric and somewhat trance-inducing instrumentals, as well as the waveringly beautiful vocals), overall it seems the duo have created something somewhat noisier and denser than ever before. Where 'Under My Skin' relied on the atmosphere of each song (which it did very successfully) 'Calm' instead pulls down any filters that Garcia placed over the music previously; opening a flood gate of wall of sound type feedback, and more intricate and involved instrumentals throughout the album. Because of this, 'Calm' is at times more difficult a listen than 'Under My Skin', and while I champion noise, feedback and wall of sound song writing; I can understand why some listeners just may not connect with the album. Similarly, each tracks basic foundation (with some exceptions) is the same: a slow(ish) programmed drum beat plays over soundscapes while Rose Berlin smoothly dances between her upper register and mid-tone, spoken word style sensual vocal deliveries. Thankfully, I can acknowledge and see where the difference between tracks lies, and furthermore how much skill is required to write such music… I just assume some will not. Garcia and Berlin remain as beautifully beguile as ever: some tracks sound as though they should be on film soundtracks, some tracks sound like they should be played in the most warped and harrowing dance club in the world, others just sound completely and utterly mesmerizing in their beauty. Besides, it all really comes down to the artists and the music: a well seasoned and ridiculously talented producer doing what he does best, accompanied by some of his equally talented and interesting friends… And his daughter, who happens to have the kind of pipes that you can play at a demented carnival or a hypnotic lounge-type dinner party. Together they produce a strong, original and commendable album, achieved through programming, production and sound.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on Baeble Music and Culture (USA), Sounds and Colours Magazine (Latin America, London), Easterndaze (Latvia) and the Australian based heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.