Not every ambient album is the same, some soothing and pastoral, others unsettling and designed to disturb. Echo, Chris Russell's second solo release on Spotted Peccary (Labyrinth the first), inhabits a midway point between those poles, its contents at times gentle, intimate even, and at other times enigmatic and panoramic. Such extremes are to be expected from an ambient soundsculptor who draws for inspiration from both “the simplicity of nature and the vast infinity of the universe.” It's the latter that's more the focal point in the present case, as Russell presents a nine-part suite that plays like the soundtrack to a not-yet-filmed sci-fi opus. One imagines Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, or Denis Villeneuve might come calling were they to be made aware of Russell's work.
Russell downplays melody on the hour-long recording, the emphasis more on experimental sound design and specifically atmosphere and texture. The opening title track could pass for the sound of a new universe being born, so packed is it with deep space rumblings, detonations, and cataclysmic goings-on of one kind or another. That violent tone carries over into the equally turbulent “Radium,” a chilly, almost psychedelic rendering suggestive of subatomic chemical reactions. As its elements ripple and writhe, a bright, marimba-like pattern emerges, its presence foreshadowing the recording's subsequent move into gamelan-related territory. The next intimation of it arises in “Varuna,” where reverberating bowl accents appear alongside intensifying flutter, and most explicitly during “Sparse,” where a hiss-drenched gamelan pattern intones as a foundation for cold winds blowing across it. As the recording enters its final third, it ventures into abstract realms, be they micro-biological (“Odjek”) or geological (“Transverter”) in tone. With seagull cries and bird chirps audible within the musical tapestry, the peaceful meditation “Abandoned” would seem to have returned us to the familiar comforts of earth, the journey over and the mission completed.
Echo is the kind of immersive recording where electronic and acoustic sounds mingle fluidly, with Russell primarily focused on achieving a particular sonic effect and using whatever means available to achieve it. Field recordings, synthesizers, percussion, bass guitar, found sounds—all such elements act as the colour palette the sound painter works with to render a particular vision into musical form. If in many ways Echo is a prototypical ambient-soundscaping exercise (not that that's a knock against it), it's the inclusion of the gamelan dimension that gives it individuating personality. - Ron Schepper, Textura