Sometimes, bands and their albums aren’t the results of some grand plan or artistic dream.
“I just decided I wanted to be one of the dudes who released albums this year,” Jason Ingalls says.
And so we have “Triangles,” the debut album from Echo Response, an all-instrumental affair that sounds a bit like Peter Tosh hopped in a time machine and wound up in Rush’s 2112.
Not that Ingalls is some newcomer to Portland music. He’s been playing locally since high school, from Dead Eyes Emerson’s 1994 gig at the Wrong Brothers Pub to the outsider murmurings of Seekonk, the indie-pop of Sunset Hearts, the dirge metal of Baltic Sea, and the salsa-flavored El Malo.
But, even after a few solo releases on Bandcamp, he never really had a project that was “his.” Nor did he really think Echo Response would be the one where he was the guy fronting with a guitar and doing all the songwriting.
“I literally only thought six people would listen to this and be nice to me on Facebook,” he says.
When your friends are all musicians, though, sometimes things take on a life of their own, and soon a friend of a friend was reaching out from Pax Aeternum, a California label that specializes in digital releases of niche artists, generally leaning toward metal and electronic stuff.
Now Ingalls finds himself putting an actual band together – sax player Rexy Dinosaur, Justin Wiley of the Maine Dead Project, Chris “C$” Burns, and Andrew McGuiness are early adopters – and locking down dates to take it on the road. It’s a bit of a journey from vibing out by himself in the basement recording tracks while his 11-year-old snoozed upstairs during general covid isolation.
“Most people know me as a drummer,” Ingalls says, “but I’ve been playing guitar for as long as I’ve been playing drums, and I’m always working on multiple things at the same time. A lot of these ideas came from me taking a break from working on other things.”
Listening to their meditative repetitions, upbeats, and electro-clashes, moody and thrumming basslines, it’s not surprising to hear many of them were thought pieces where Ingalls imagined himself in a setting and wrote the soundtrack to it: “One time,” he says, “it was just imagining a dub band at soundcheck.”
Like comic books with no words – that’s a thing, you know – Echo Response gives you the setting, the mood, and the atmosphere, and it can be up to you to supply the details of what exactly is happening here.
“You really have to immerse yourself in that world,” Ingalls says, “and you can also have it on passively, and both of those things are valid.”
For sure, the 11-song, 42-minute record is terrific for a Sunday morning reading the paper, or a long drive through Maine’s western hills when you’re in no particular hurry, but there’s also enough in the package to make it the sole object of your attention. With everything played by hand, it has plenty of jazz flavors and unexpected discursions as Ingalls introduces new instruments and melodic flourishes.
“Quite the Curious Statement” opens with a rolling keyboard line like the opening to the “X Files,” diving into Herbie Hancock-like sounds. The percussion is crisp, full of rim shots. “The Approach” is more languid, like playing Police songs underwater. And that dubstep, reggae, island sound is omnipresent, sometimes lurking in the background of a proggy song like “The Mountain,” sometimes much more overt, as on the Augustus Pablo-like sounds of “Two Triangles.” Single chords ring out in waves.
(There is a two-tone spot in that last piece that may sound like your doorbell. I got up twice to check the front door while listening to the album in my house.)
While some of the songs capture melodies Ingalls had ringing in his head, others are just the result of listening to the universe a bit.
“You have to be open to persuasion,” he says, “even if the persuasion is coming from your own brain. … For ‘The Approach,’ the entire thing came together when I found the reverb on the snare – it’s not the marimba, it’s the reverb. I heard that tone and it was like, ‘Man, here we go!’”
He laughs at his own excitement: “I love music. I’m not a too-cool-for-school guy. I love to get excited by it and have something just open up in front of me. Music is the best.”
People with a similar passion will find so much to listen for here. But one of the great things about music is that you can’t always explain why you like something and it’s likely there’s something here that resonates with just about anyone.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Mira Sthira, “Move with My Body” — A burning dance track that borrows as much from ’80s electronica as Indian and Middle Eastern tones, the production is the work of Mikheil Rushishvili, an artist from the country of Georgia. The chaotic, sometimes caustic piece is a response to Sthira’s experience living with chronic pain caused by ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that, over time, can cause some vertebrae to fuse. It’s hard not to sympathize.
• Seepeoples, “Two Silhouettes” — Full of piano and a shuffling snare, this is an indie country kind of piece, where the pedal steel is contrasted with whispery vocals of nostalgia and loss: “I think that you should do this, instead.”
• Trawl, “Kaiju King” — Playing a melodic heaviness that sometimes reminds of Clutch, Trawl is carving out an impressive catalog of guitar-fueled rock. This newest has big riffs and a bit of Jersey and black-leather jacket to it.
• FonFon Ru, “Fatty Tissue Thorn” — The third single and first video from the upcoming “Collapse of the Silver Bridge,” this song finds the band mining absurdities and simmering verses, with a jagged bridge that threatens to drive off the road before returning to a chorus that’s catchy as hell.
• Gina Alibrio, “Painted Lady” — The frontgal of the funky Gina and the Red-Eyed Flight Crew is out with a single and video to promote a solo effort, “Atlas,” that is now firmly in the eagerly awaited category. Her voice is huge here, with a relaxed R&B playing on vibraphone sounds and an offbeat snare.
— Sam Pfeifle