It must take a certain kind of magic to develop an album that is so dazzling for the ears and the heart, overcoming the listener with such warmth and beauty that one might think they have Stendhal syndrome. What a feat it is then, that a band should do that twice.
K’s Choice brings us, after ten years, the stunning Echo Mountain and acoustic follow-up Little Echoes. Siblings Sarah and Gert Bettens mark their return with an alluring blend of alt-rock and folk, a sound as natural as the smell of sweet grass outside. Between the two albums, no track is heavy-handed. There are only sweet and pleasant surprises.
Echo Mountain comes as a two-disc set, seven songs on each. The album starts off with the kaleidoscopic and dreamy “Come Live the Life,” opening with spindly finger picking akin to “The Sound of Silence” which then explodes with harder guitar over the still-gentle vocals. It feels like rolling out on a cross-country trip through back roads before barreling out onto the highway, everything outside the window flitting by. The title track, “Echo Mountain,” serves as a perfect companion piece, a rousing and perfect travel song. “When I Lay Beside You” is a sensual, saloon-esque piece with a touch of ghostly echo that takes it to a gossamer plane.
The first disc perfectly captures that late 70’s rock country sound, throwing in a dash of 60’s folk rock. It closes with “If This Isn’t Right,” a jaunty tune fit for a malt shop jukebox. From there, Echo Mountain shifts on its second disc to a more demure, soulful sound. “Say a Prayer” is one of the quieter moments, yearning, twangy and simultanously introspective and extrospective. “These are the Thoughts” channels a 60’s girl group sound with its bouncing melody. On this disc, however, “16” and “Killing Dragons” are the knockouts. “16” is a wistful and pretty paean to perpetual-teendom, an emphatic declaration of eternal youth and living for tonight. “Killing Dragons” takes an appropriate route by harkening to medieval ballads, adding strains of liturgy acclamations; concerning past demons and conceding that they’re too strong to fight alone, the sound is earnest and genuine without being cold. The bridge features a feverish guitar, a maelstrom akin to the solo from “Hotel California” before submitting to a choir-like role behind the lyrics.
With Echo Mountain at a close, we come to the tasty gem that is Little Echoes, twelve tracks of acoustic versions from the preceding album, covers, and original pieces.
Little Echoes is a sweet, condensed package, cherry-picking the best of Echo Mountain for its acoustic renderings; “Come Live the Life,” “Echo Mountain,” “If This Isn’t Right,” “Killing Dragons,” and “16” all show up here, stripped down to make the vocals an instrument in their own right. Balanced with those immaculate selections are a host of brilliant covers: Spit Entz’s “Message To My Girl,” Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited,” Damien Rice’s “Cannonball.” But these are not by-the-number covers. The tracks blend seamlessly with the rest of the K’s Choice material. “No Surprises” is a tremendous and beautiful standout; they polish “Cannonball” to a now-timeless status, and “I’m So Excited” glows with pure exuberance.
Originals on Little Echoes include “Someone Just Like You,” “I Want to Get Lost,” and “River to the Moon,” with Gert taking over lead vocals on the last two. “I Want to Get Lost” recalls the travel high of Echo Mountain, and certainly wouldn’t be out of place on that album.
Both Echo Mountain and Little Echoes make for an outstanding era for K’s Choice, conjuring back-to-back enchantment. You can grab both albums stateside on September 4 and share in the swoony joys for yourself.