Echo Park – Expressions – Album Review
How am I just getting this record NOW? Expressions by Echo Park came out over a year ago at this point. I’m late climbing onto this bandwagon y’all, but you better have saved me a seat!
Echo Park consists of a couple artists we’ve featured here at our pages before in the past…it’s a collaborative project that consists of JOHO, Kiev, Cyrus Greene, Quad L, Danny Styles, Cole, and Joleisa – a whole crew of incredible talent overall, some we already know & love, some that we’re lovin’ as of now. They’re even a collaboration of Canadian/American talent…let’s check out Expressions y’all.
Driftin’ in on the wind into the bright & sunny vibes of “Cali” – JOHO takes the spotlight to set the pace and get this record started off on all the right notes. Handing off the mic after his hooks to Cyrus Greene, you can instantly hear this crew has chemistry that works and highly capable emcees. Definitely the kind of cut that’s gonna connect with the people out there, “Cali” is a great gateway into this record that doesn’t reveal the full plot of Expressions right away, while still setting the standard for the rest to live up to. Essentially, they’ve still got a full arsenal of magic to come – they’re giving you a strong taste right off the drop, but you’ll find a whole bunch more to follow as well, so buckle up & strap in for the ride. The ONLY problem I have with “Cali” at all – and you might feel the same as I do – is that, like, I mean…DAMN – don’t this cut make you miss the outdoors and the days of drivin’ top-down? All that was only months ago before the worldwide lockdown, but you listen to a track like “Cali” and all of a sudden it feels like it was a lifetime ago…this cut makes you wanna get out in the sun where we belong. All-in-all, every time I ended up repeating this record, the bright & bold vibes radiating from the music & the microphone on “Cali” were stunningly refreshing each time it came back on. You’ll find the upbeat tracks on Expressions end up hitting some massive home-runs, “Cali” is definitely included in that; it always hard to know just how much a song means to a record on that initial spin through it, but once you’ve had a chance to go through this album a couple times, I guarantee you’ll find this cut’s essential.
Quad L makes a massive impression with his first appearance on Expressions in the opening bars of “Coast” and completely delivers the kind of charisma you wanna hear in a performance. Overall, I think this cut is gonna surprise a few people out there with its clever composition – make no mistake, there’s an argument to be made that Echo Park is a Rap or Hip-Hop-based record…you wouldn’t be wrong in saying that necessarily – but when you listen to a track like “Coast,” it makes you appreciate how this collective of artists is bringing so much more to the game. For instance – if you asked me to pin down the main influence on the sound of “Coast,” it isn’t coming from this decade or even the last – you could trace the roots of this melody all the way back to the 50’s & 60’s. Don’t get my words twisted, “Coast” ends up being fresh AF for today due to just how unexpected this whole vibe would be in today’s world or on a record full of explicit tunes…like I said, it’s a surprising cut, but it’s one that absolutely works well for Echo Park. With JOHO on the hooks, you can always bank on there being something fully worth your time to listen to – if you’ve read my reviews on his music in the past, you already know I think he’s one of the best songwriters out there in the scene today. Listen to how much of a role he plays on “Coast” and how he takes pride in keeping the entertainment factor way up high for us all – after the brilliant way that Quad L starts this whole track up, JOHO had a lot riding on his shoulders to keep this moving in the right direction, which he certainly does with style & confidence, as you’ll hear for yourself for sure. I mean look…if it wasn’t for “Someday” about to steal the show right around the corner, you’d have found me cheering for “Coast” to be the potential lead-single from this record, or at least one of’em. Collectively, between the clever hooks from JOHO, the powerful execution in the most intense moments from the vocals, and the reliable rhymes from Kiev slappin’ this track to the next-level at the end, there’s not much else that can be said…the more there is goin’ on in “Coast,” the better things seem to sound.
Now…here’s where things get realer-than-real. If you’re savvy, you’ll notice on the Echo Park page at Spotify that “Someday” was actually released as a single as well – but I promise ya, even if your eyes somehow failed ya, your ears would pick up on the single-worthy sound goin’ down here, no problem. What the hell about this isn’t pure genius? “Someday” will end up giving me one major BEEF with this record eventually…but we’ll get into that in a bit…right now, spin this track, turn this up to the rafters, and dig on what is truly one seriously spectacular & sparkling cut. Danny Styles puts in an exceptional performance to get the energy moving with his bars at the beginning…and you’ll hear JOHO hold his own as well; alongside the piano/bass/beat combination happenin’ here, they’ve got an outstanding track to work with and they make the most of each of their moments respectively. That being said, as impressive as they truly are – it’s singer Joleisa that completely steals the show when it comes to “Someday” and she’s arguably 100% of the reason that this cut becomes the single-worthy track it IS. Because you’ll be singing this around the house later on, I can promise you that. You’ll be humming the melody of the hooks she’s singing at all times of day after you hear this track even just one time – and I can guarantee ya you’ll wanna spin “Someday” a whole helluva lot more than just once. So take that in – with a lil’ repetition, what Joleisa is singing on “Someday” is likely to stick with you FOR LIFE, you feel me? I think she absolutely nailed this performance with a humble, sweet, and straight-up angelic sound that speaks straight to the heart. So what’s my beef with Echo Park then, you ask? Well that’s simple – Joleisa only appears on about a third of the overall tracks yo – so what’s up with that? Hearing her step into the spotlight on “Someday” is a genuine treat for the ears…all I’m sayin’ is she’s an essential asset to Echo Park and a star in the making of her own right – Joleisa leads this third track to complete victory. After much listening to this record and as good as Expressions can be, she really hits a major highlight with her mix of sincerity & sweetness coming out with a wonderfully humble & highly addictive sound.
The boys take over on “Polarize,” with Danny Styles, JOHO, Cyrus Greene, and Quad L all taking turns on the mic. Tracks like “Cali,” “Coast,” and “Polarize” all really execute on classic Hip-Hop vibes that are tried, tested, and true to this very day, and likely always will be. “Polarize” becomes one of them real lights-down-low songs…Echo Park is talkin’ bout fuckin’ quite a bit on this fourth track – it’s time to get “a piece of that” – and hey, why not? Slow moving…representative of how these fine gentlemen wanna take their time with lovin’ you ladies – “Polarize” reaches into a solid mix of low-down vibes and low-down hooks to create a sensually explicit cut for y’all to get your freak on with. Listen to JOHO hit that soulful swagger in perfect stride throughout the first verse will ya? Danny Styles brings something altogether bizarre, unexpected, and awesome to this cut through the intro & hooks, and gets ultra-smooth when it comes to his bars in the verse. Cyrus Greene…what else can be said? Every crew out there has that ONE dude where you can hear a lil’ extra attitude in their voice as they spit…that extra hint of mischief & mayhem…that’s where CG seems to come in willing to supply at all times. As for Quad L – this dude deserves a lot of credit for closing this out strong. Every emcee in Echo Park obviously brings in something of their own, but give Quad L his props for professionalism & confidence – dude spits words like he’s sure of every single one of’em, and that conviction always adds to “Polarize.”
I think a lot of people out there see a tag like ‘explicit’ and assume the content you’ll find is gonna be like…without artistic merit somehow. Like the use of a ‘fuck’ or a ‘shit’ somewhere somehow taints the validity of what we have to say…and that’s truly not the case. Listen to how Cyrus Greene takes the poetry to the wax in his words on “Falling” and the insightful mix of thoughts, feelings, and emotions he’s spillin’ out onto the track here – and try to convince me that’s not art. I couldn’t give a fuck about a ‘shit’ or a curse word here in there if you can still get the sentiment across…Echo Park proves to be more than capable of saying what they wanna say, how they wanna say it, and whether it’s explicit or not, the mood, atmosphere, and overall vibe translates exactly how it should. And believe me, when it comes to that, “Falling” isn’t exactly gonna be the happiest tune you’ll hear all year round folks…so be prepared. CG comes in packin’ lines as savage as “got sick of finding friends through the suicide hotlines” – and he’s diggin’ deep into the pain of relationships, lookin’ for love, and generally finding his place in this world. As many of y’all know, that’s never easy. Joleisa comes in to light up the hooks and offer a bit of hope through the lyrics & vocals she puts in. As for JOHO…my man…I tell ya…sometimes brother…got me shakin’ my fist over here…I’ll say this…it takes a moment or two for him to settle in, and once he does, he’s on solid ground. The writing’s as solid as ever, but take notice y’all, that’s a really challenging part to sing; he’s responsible, that’s his design, and up to him to fully execute…but no doubt, that’d be tough to do. Dig the outro from Cole as well…it gives “Falling” an ending that’s subtle & different from any of the rest and there’s a lot of unique texture to that final part that really grabs the attention of the ears.
What is THIS gem though? How did “Peach” not become a single? Is there still time? What a cut! I damn near don’t even have the words to describe just how much I love this track…and as far as its appeal goes, I think there’s no doubt that this potentially rivals just how much people loved “Someday” earlier on. Not that Echo Park is competing against anything else other than the tracks on their own album mind you…they’re all part of Expressions, so that all adds up to one solid WIN if you’re housing tracks with the quality you’ll find in “Peach.” Is it an oddity? Sure – in some respects, it really is…with its altered vocal sounds twisted to be almost like they’re emcees suckin’ on helium, you can completely hear the uniqueness that this track has in the vocals – and you’ll be more than pleased at how well it works. It’s like Echo Park blazed-up, got themselves an ice-cream truck to tour across the nation in, tricked it out with hydraulics & a huge bass-driven stereo system, and warped that traditional theme song that came with their new ride until it suited their own style. Nothin’ left to do but slang beats from coast to coast and cruise along with “Peach” as the anthem for good times now; that’s how I’m hearing this. “Peach” is almost ridiculous levels of fun and another spectacular example of Echo Park at their most entertaining…it’s the kind of cut that would make everyone stop & listen for at least a moment or two, and chances are the vast majority stick around to become longtime fans afterwards. Melody, bars, brilliant ideas, stellar execution…some songs you just know are gonna hit home with listeners out there, and for my money, I’m betting on “Peach” being that universal & accessible cut that absolutely everyone loves for one reason or another…or another…or another…you get the idea – this song is the shiznit y’all.
I wasn’t as 100% sure about how I felt towards “Circles” at first. Songwriting-wise and sound, I could hear it was gonna make a strong connection at some point…but being real with ya, it felt like it took a minute or so before JOHO found that sweet spot where his voice had the tone he was searching for. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t take too long to get to the level we know he’s capable of, but he sounds a bit unsure at the start of this tune in comparison to the confident way he’s crushed so many other cuts we’ve heard from him on his solo work. Eventually, when he does find that spot where he belongs, he excels completely…he’s the reason that the main hooks of this cut come out so sincerely and have such a lasting impact in your mind long after it has stopped playing. Like, when you hear him punch into the chorus for the first time just past that first moment, it’s like you can audibly hear him reach that full potential and spot in his energy, tone, and inspiration that he was searching for beforehand – and that confident surge forward leads to even greater things on “Circles” as Joleisa steps in to add her own beauty & grace in the verse to follow. I’ll say this…the songwriting on this record is ultimately just about as strong or equally strong as we’ve experienced from JOHO’s albums in the past, so there’s no way in hell I’d be skipping over “Circles,” that much I can say for sure; if anything, I think this track might simply suffer a bit more from its placement after “Peach” and replacing the amped-up excitement with a much more noticeable down-tempo tune like “Circles” afterwards. Still a good tune by any measure, that’s what I’m saying…probably hard for it to be a favorite on Expressions overall, but still a damn good song. I’ve had moments where I’ve gone back & forth on it for sure…JOHO really does get to the heart of the hooks on this cut, and once he’s locked-in to his part, what you’ll hear on “Circles” is fully memorable. There’s not QUITE enough Joleisa on this particular cut…but c’mon now people, when could there be?
All that being said, if it’s redemption you’re looking for, JOHO will give it to ya quickly in the bars of his opening verse on “Corners” right after “Circles.” Ironically, this was probably the cut I was the least sure of the writing or strength of the main hooks of the chorus, which is usually where I’m most enthusiastic about what JOHO creates. In my opinion, from what JOHO, Kiev, and Cyrus Greene bring to the mic in their verses, what they each put in is strong enough to outshine the chorus of “Corners.” Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that either folks – sometimes that’s just how it goes in the writing, or sometimes you just gotta stand back and realize that the verses got fully nailed beyond expectation – and that might be the case here, to all their credit. The hooks of “Corners” still hit the mark, they’re still engaging, they’ve still got great ideas goin’ on – what I’m saying isn’t disrespecting what’s being done there at all, it’s much more of a compliment to the killer performances in the verses from a crew of emcees doin’ the work and gettin’ the job done RIGHT. Plus, you’ll find this track move through several variations of its personality, flow, and style; from Greene puttin’ his penis into your girl’s butt, to the absolutely brilliant transition in sound over the course of its official second part and how much this track changes from where it all began, you gotta dig the flexible vibes and the tangible results that Echo Park achieves in entertainin’ ya with “Corners.” They take the low-end for an intense ride at “Corners” starts out…and I wouldn’t deny that the chorus brings its own empowering energy to the moment…it’s a clever use of a Part I & II where each side of this story really has its own atmosphere & sound – they trade the mic with precision and flex the skills you wanna hear between the shared chemistry of a crew. Whether or not you’re more attached to the verses like I was…one way or the other, chances are the hooks will work their magic on ya and definitely form a memorable loop inside your dome. I’ve been doing this music thing long enough to know that, regardless of what I think, pass or fail, if a hook sticks in your head for days, then there’s still something verifiably special there…and I’d argue that on behalf of “Corners.” What I very much dig however, is the fact that I completely thought this whole song was over, and then Danny Styles comes flyin’ off the top ropes with the people’s elbow of verbal swag. Could this have been its own separate track? Would I have happily accepted another two or three minutes of this part? A big HELL YES to the last question for sure…I don’t mind that it’s attached to the front-half of “Corners” but I’d probably by lying to you all by omission if I didn’t mention that Part II really has the juice!
“Bullet” is a tougher one…both in demeanor and sound. Performances from Cyrus, Quad L, and Danny are all on the mark, I think it felt more like the music of this particular track was either a little grating or aggressive compared to the smoothness we just experienced at the end of “Corners” right beforehand. Sometimes that kind of shake-up pays off…and if we were somehow havin’ trouble paying attention, I’d be all over this move…but when you’re right in the vibe, switching up this sound this dramatically can have a jarring effect and snap us out of a comfort zone we were happy to be in. I highly suspect it would be the latter case when it comes to “Bullet” – because they’ve had our attention in full from track ONE when it comes to the material on Expressions. They still do now…it just takes a second or two to adjust & snap outta the chilled-out ending to “Corners” and into the harsh realm of “Bullet,” that’s all. And I hate to say it dear readers, dear friends – but that’s on us as listeners, not them as artists; sure you always want a smooth flow to a lineup of tunes on an album, but more often than not, if the artists/bands you’re listening to are being real & authentic in what they do, smoothness really ain’t how it all goes the majority of the time. You end up much more likely with a whole range of ideas – especially in a collaborative project like Echo Park…and rightly so, you end up trying a whole bunch of things in the first decade as you fully dial-in on what works best and what suits the vision 100%. So I don’t think of cuts like “Bullet” as any kind of stumble – it’s not, it’s still a high-quality cut for a whole host of its own reasons. Is it as strong overall as “Someday” or “Peach?” Maybe, maybe-not – and that’s the point – we all hear different things as listeners, these are all strong tracks with distinct personalities and hooks of their own; people will always like what they like – that’s just how it is homies. Most of Expressions is impeccably mixed…but I think Echo Park runs into a cut that gets the best of them here in that respect with “Bullet” – those synth sounds are up a bit too high to let the vocals shine as hard as they should, ultimately becoming a bit too distracting when we’re trying to get to the words. The vibe translates…good lord, how could it not? I’m just sayin’ these dudes write rad lyrics and they should be heard as much as possible…the breakdowns of “Bullet” are 100% perfection, but the rest is a much harder battle to absorb in-full than what we’ve grown accustomed to so far on Expressions.
Cole creeps and crawls through the bars of “Frontal” with a slick & deadly sound. Cyrus Greene pops in to give an alternative spin to the hooks and give this track another advantage through the uniqueness he brings to the chorus – and man, Quad L comes in like a man possessed once again, lighting up the mic as they shift gears and keep “Frontal” moving rapidly, professionally, and powerfully. Danny Styles brings in the flair with a stylistic set of bars to bring it home before CG’s hooks take us to the very end. The final thirty-five seconds that they leave you on with the hooks is massively effective and highly memorable. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say that “Frontal” is going to be the cut that stands out the most on those first couple spins, but it undeniably adds strength to the lineup and will eventually go on to be one of the many reasons to come back to Expressions and jam this whole set-list all over again. With enough badass sound to have you runnin’ through the back alleys lookin’ for shelter & safety from the shadows surrounding you, “Frontal” gets personal & introspective, while also using wicked imagery to put the full-picture into focus. Someone get Quad L some oxygen will ya? Dude barely has time to work in a breath while he’s rappin’ – it’s literally like he doesn’t even need air like the rest of us do. Great balance between the bars & hooks of “Frontal,” it’s definitely a great example of one of the most across-the-board-even cuts on the records where it’d be extremely hard to pick out your favorite part.
A track comprised by our two main connections to Echo Park, JOHO and Kiev take on the mean low-end of “Lean” and get right into the dirt to bring ya into one seriously grim atmosphere. Definitely my favorite appearance by Kiev, I think he hits the right gear for this whole vibe and completely sticks his landing with every syllable. I’m not complaining about JOHO either – the man holds it down; these two have proven to work extremely well together in the past and “Lean” is no exception to the high standards they’ve set in the past. It’s a seriously gritty cut when it comes right down to it – and they make a whole bunch of exceptional decisions along the way from the slickness of the flow itself, to key inclusions like the backing vocals. They don’t show up too often really, but they sound perfect when you hear that extra layer added in…probably could have done with a few more spots where that happens, but it’s not like it’s such a factor that it would sour you on the rest by not having them in there. “Lean” flexes one of the most modern-day vibes that you’ll find on Expressions…when it comes to execution and relevance, you can’t find fault here. Ultimately, sure, I think a more upbeat sound is likely always going to find a bigger audience and probably more quickly – but I can definitely vouch for this cut giving a whole bunch of lyrical gangsters out there the inspiration they’re looking for in the music they jam on.
I will say this…after “Peach,” with the brief exception of Part II on “Corners” or maybe the hooks of “Frontal,” Echo Park takes Expressions into a decidedly dark direction compared to how it all started out. Not necessarily in theme, but definitely in the sound itself. And no lie, as good as any one track may be, a whole series of seriousness can become a lot to take in at times and fairly demanding on the listeners out there. Like, if they’re looking for nothing but good-time vibes, it’d be hard to take in a lot of these cuts back-to-back-to-back, like “Zen” coming after what we’ve already experienced with “Bullet,” “Frontal,” and “Lean” right beforehand. The facts are that Danny Styles is definitely not fucking around with his words on this cut, taking direct aim at his career path, the industry, and what it does & doesn’t take to make it and be real in the process. I’m not 100% sure where Danny has been, but he’s officially declaring himself back in action with “Zen,” and he’s taken control of this cut with resounding authority. If I’m being fully truthful, I think it’s probably more serious than a lot of people out there will be consistently in the mood for, but the same could be said about “Lean” as well; look at it from the opposite perspective instead…when you need an anthem to go out kickin’ not just some, but ALL of the ass – you’ve just gained two cuts that are like a musical power-up to assist in you handlin’ your business.
I’d put “Solace” up there with the best of surprises on this record. Nearly taking this track on in a spoken word style, Danny Styles sounds killer as this cut begins. Joleisa makes a return to the hooks; both of them on the mic have a distant sound to their vocals that sets them right into the thick of the music and gives “Solace” a real level of depth you can hear. In terms of the tracks on Expressions that flex more artistically, this is definitely THAT cut…the real hooks here are in the sleekness of the overall design and the compelling cleverness of the composition & structure more than any one specific part. This is poetry and art in action y’all…and it completely works for me. “Solace” probably asks a bit more from the average music-listener to stick with through its spread out sound – but c’mon…how can you listen to the vocals and the way they sink so deep into this cut and not want to listen to a whole shitload more of this? Theme & subject-wise, it’s hella grim, dark, and disturbed on several levels – but in terms of an idea coming together where everything is in the exact right place you want it in, “Solace” comes in for the win with its sly, sleek, and slippery design. Deadly cut and one of my personal favorites for sure.
“Para” certainly brings out the personality in this crew once again don’t it? They’re definitely not afraid to say what they wanna say, however they wanna say it, you know what I’m sayin’? You’ll find a solid mix throughout this cut though…which makes sense, “Para” is actually one of the biggest collaborative efforts on the record with five members making an appearance on the m-i-c, so you get lots of different flows, different styles, different thoughts, all over different approaches to the bars you’ll hear. With some crews out there that’d likely threaten the balance a little bit…even as cool as it can be to get a whole bunch of people on one cut, from the listening end, it usually results in us favoring one part over another…but I felt that the balance of strengths in Echo Park really took the spotlight on “Para” in ways that listeners would both hear & appreciate what each emcee brings to the mic. Bonus points to Danny Styles for one of the most badass lines you’ll ever hear to start a song up…like, in history – and then listening to this guy shift the gears and fully let himself fucking loose…I mean damn Danny, where has this all been the entire time? Dude’s had some really rad and significant moments on this album along the way, but he’s giving so much energy to his bars that he could power your village. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that “Para” gets anywhere close to the status of a “Peach” or “Someday” – but I do think it restores some of the much-needed spark to the latter-half of this record. In fact, of all the cuts on this record, “Para” really shows this collaboration at its best when it comes to passin’ the mic around – really well structured with where each emcee takes over from the last and having Quad L as the anchor at the very end to run this through the finish line with ease was definitely the right way to make an impact.
That being said, having Quad L start the whole thang certainly works too, which you’ll hear as he sprints off the line and sets the pace on “Beautiful.” Kiev gives his moment on “Lean” a real run for his own money…I think he crushed his last bars hard on Expressions in his part on “Beautiful” – and from Cole to Danny to Cyrus afterwards, they all get a wild opportunity to make one last impression on us all, and make it seriously last. If I’m reading all this correctly, I think the only track to have more members of Echo Park on it than “Para” is this final cut “Beautiful.” Though…in the notes I’ve got here, it says ‘everyone’ shows up in the outro of “Cali” – so there might be two cuts that feature the entire lineup at once on Expressions, but you get what I mean. Nothing is an afterthought here, everyone gets a true moment of their own to shine in the spotlight, which they all genuinely deserve after all the effort they’ve put in from beginning to end. What I can tell ya for sure, is that the serious, slow-burning vibes they use at the end make a big impact on “Beautiful” and give you plenty to think about as Echo Park closes this new chapter in their collaborative career…the follow up record to their 2018 release called Chroma. There’s no doubt that the boys could have benefitted from a lil’ bit of Joleisa in the mix here at the end rather than go dicks-out in a testicle-fest at the very end of Expressions, but I ain’t complainin’ either. They wrap this record up tight as a Friday night with “Beautiful” and give this album the solid finish it deserved; everything I’ve heard on Expressions was confirmation this collaborative crew should continue on doin’ what they’ve been doin’ – they’ve got serious strengths added to the mix by every one of their members & together they prove they’ve got material & music that will verifiably last a lifetime. Add Expressions to your soundtrack if you haven’t already y’all – great things are happenin’ in Echo Park.
Find more music from Echo Park at their official page at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/5Z6FALPhI5ECmxgz6lOHJT
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