Echo Strike – Dirty Clean Sexy Mean – Album Review
Interesting band! You can hear right off the drop as “Bad Intentions” begins that Echo Strike is largely gonna go their own way with a highly versatile & vibrant sound, which they’ll certainly go on to reveal throughout this lineup of fifteen tracks on their new album Dirty Clean Sexy Mean. It’s almost like, if you were somehow able to merge the thick grooves of a band like Stereolab, the songwriting core of a band like R.E.M., and the sparkle & shine you’d usually associate with something like Maroon 5…you’d probably start to get close to describing what you’ll hear on “Bad Intentions.” Lovin’ the neon vibes that catch our attention quickly along with the beat…and the more I spun this record, the more I felt like this first cut seemed to really stand out in the entire lineup…honestly, I think it’s one of their better tracks in this lineup the more you play this record. It definitely makes for a great gateway in; you’d never be able to fully predict the many twists & turns Dirty Clean Sexy Mean is going to make anyhow, but it’s also cool to know that Echo Strike far from reveals all the tricks up their sleeves just yet. They’ll give you a stellar dose of what they’re capable of on this first cut, but they’ve still got plenty of noteworthy fireworks still to come as well. It’s an ambitious record all-around, and “Bad Intentions” makes that clear right away…you’ll hear the anti-typical design of this turn, yet also be interested in the appeal that instantly generates here – it’s the kind of opening track that tells you you’re in-store for something new.
With a sound as flashy as you’ll find on “1978,” chances are, the last thing the people out there are gonna hear first is the lyricism…it doesn’t need to be all deep & such, and that’s probably a good thing when it comes to this particular tune. They’ve got a strong performance here that sounds impeccably unified, and that’s by far the main strengths of “1978” – lyrically, it almost drives me nuts, I ain’t gonna lie to ya…and Echo Strike will reveal songs later on in the lineup that’ll have much more to offer. But whatever to my own personal taste though! That ain’t ever what really matters and it’s certainly not what makes this planet go round – at the end of the day, I’d still readily acknowledge that “1978” is a really well-crafted tune. There will be more than enough people out there that will dig on the vibrant & lively dance-inducing vibes they’ve got goin’ on – they don’t need every single one of us onboard when there will already be enough to tip the whole boat, you feel me? For those of you out there that like themselves a pepped-up Funk/Disco/Pop hybrid…you’ll have no problems at all liking or loving this song. Regardless of whether or not the style of this song connects to me or not, I wouldn’t take a single point away for the way they perform it, which is totally what kept me sticking with it time after time in rotation – there’s just no two ways about it when it comes to that aspect, it’s one of Echo Strikes best in that regard. You can hear the commitment, you can hear the innovation, and you can hear the fun too.
“Sweet Child Of Mine” is so much harder to examine than people would ever realize…at least for me. I have next to no use for Guns & Roses to start with…but I will concede that I’ve always had time for this tune, and all its millions of covers out there. That being said, that’s part of it – “Sweet Child Of Mine” is what you could verifiably consider to be an inescapable song…as in, if you’re tuned into the radio, you’re still guaranteed to hear it in some way, shape, or form every week without exception. Then you count all the different takes on this tune supplied by the internet…and you start to see the obstacles in the way of getting this cover out there – it’s much harder than you’d think it is. If you ARE gonna attempt something as recognized & revered as this, you walk an incredibly fine line…you want to bring something new to it, but you also need to find a way to retain the essence of what’s made it timeless. In that sense, I’d be more than willing to say Echo Strike pulls out a decisive win here with their cover. I still don’t know that I would have done it…and I think this is played fairly right down the road between what’s safe enough & altogether different…I mean, I’m just gonna tell them like it is like I do with the rest of the music I listen to – brace yourselves Echo Strike, because this will induce polarizing reactions. There are already far too many purests out there to begin with that are already gonna yell & scream about how the original is better no matter what song it is…but that’s never the purpose of a cover to begin with, in my opinion. It all stems from the true love of a tune, hopefully the desire to bring something new to it like Echo Strike has done here, and paying respect to a great song in tribute. Hard to argue against that being the results you hear – this has all of that & then some – but as to whether or not the people out there will accept such a radical spin on such a timeless tune is a whole other story.
Personally, I felt like “Making The Jive” was truly essential in getting to the heart of what Echo Strike was all about…at least from this first experience for myself in listening to their music. Sometimes a video can really tie things all together for ya, just like The Dude’s rug did for the room in The Big Lebowski, ya dig? I think I needed to see what I saw in their new video supporting “Making The Jive” to really see the authenticity in these hybrid warriors to get the full picture & witnessing the unapologetic commitment to the style & sound right there onscreen did a ton for me in terms of providing that additional confirmation that Echo Strike is every bit as into their music as you’d have to assume they would be. You get this instant hint of Disco/Funk here…and even when it come to the design of the very first line you’ll hear, you’ll immediately recognize the Bee Gees influence that runs throughout this cut both in its vocals and music as well. Like I was saying…if the video had shied away from that somehow, I might feel altogether different – but you’ll see for yourself when you watch this, that they’ve really embraced this whole style with open arms and committed to it…and that’s always gonna earn my full respect. What I love to hear more than anything else is confidence & commitment combined – and Echo Strike really pulled no punches when it came time to getting into the groove for “Making The Jive” – it’s perfectly well-assembled, brilliantly lively, and fully realized to its maximum potential. From the lead vocals to the background harmonies & digitalized twists, they’ve got themselves a cut that genuinely stands out for its insatiable energy and relentlessly smooth style…it’s very true to the original era of the Disco genre of course, but there ain’t no denying that “Making The Jive” is sure soundin’ real good right now as well too.
“Everything Hums” highlights the positive intentions that drive so much of what Echo Strike strives to create, along with the versatile style this band continues to present throughout their music. Admittedly, it’s a bit more bare in sound coming right after the uplifting grooves of “Making The Jive,” and I’ve still got my moments here and there with the lead vocals inside of the verses too…but when it comes to the chorus hooks, that’s where you’ll find the defining specialness that’ll resonate & connect most to ya. I do like that you start to get a much more complete idea of the scope & range of the record by this point – and in many ways, “Everything Hums” helps us get that fuller picture with much more detail. Great ideas on the bass-lines here…solid ideas in the melody and from the microphone…excellent shuffle & sound to the beat of the drums…endearing tones from the guitar chiming in. To me, the main success of this track is achieved through the strength in the chorus and the boldest moments of this song; the more it dialed-back, the more exposed they are to us noticing a few slight cracks here & there, but it’s those same moments that communicate a lot of emotion in the vocals as well. Not always something you wanna trade away in a song for a smoother design…over-production can eat away at the integrity & honesty you’ll find in a moment like “Everything Hums” – I’d side with the way they’ve played this song.
Almost in response though, any issues are sorted out solidly on “Work To Do” and the verses sound spectacular this time around – I love the performance here and the amount of endearing moment in time that Echo Strike generates here. Chorus-wise, I ain’t complaining either…I’m probably just a tiny bit more partial to the verses, but I’d be splitting hairs and making comparisons for no real reason – this cut has a good balance of strengths that are displayed through its gentle demeanor. Listen to things like the brilliant tone in the guitar solo around the 2:40 mark though will ya? Between the boldness you’ll find there, the lead-vocals on this track, and the emotional sincerity you’ll find in the insightful lyricism here all stack up to an impressive victory on “Work To Do.” As far as I’ve read about this particular cut online as well, it sounds like this cut came out in one take too – which is quite remarkable. All-in-all, you really feel the completeness of this song when you hear it…and when it’s right, it’s right – I don’t blame them whatsoever for not tinkering around with perfection and trying to fix something that ain’t even broke – they made a really great call in preserving “Work To Do” with the natural sound of it all came out on that first go around. I’d be pretty shocked if this didn’t end up being an instant fan-favorite and also a song with the power to pull a whole lot of people onboard the Echo Strike bandwagon – they’ve got themselves a great song here that’s rocking gently with massively accessible & universal hooks that are bound to sink in deep. I know it’s one of my own personal favorites from this record, that much I can tell ya – “Work To Do” has fantastic harmonies, a wonderfully expressive lead performance, and an unbreakably strong-but-humble sound that suits this whole band remarkably well from start to finish. Like I’ll go on to explain later down the road with the song “Leaving” – sometimes a hint of melancholy can go a real long way – it not only sounds, but FEELS, like “Work To Do” brought out their very best.
There is a lot of light, love, and warmth in the music of Echo Strike, and they certainly make no attempt to hide that – these are all aspects of what really defines this band overall. “Her Smile” is a fair representation of what you’ll find at the core of this band’s sound quite a bit in that respect…positive intentions and endearing vibes…and yet another diverse variation on Echo Strike’s style. Frontman Randy Van Gelder often reminds me of Matthew Sweet from back in the day…for lack of a better description & no pun intended, you get that same tendency to dive into the sweeter side of sound. At times that comes out with stunning tone, at others you get an inherent humbleness that, pass or fail or whatever you might think of the end results, still has an endearing quality that always manages to pull us in while we listen. Personally, I dig the songwriting when it comes to “Her Smile” – there’s a lot of uniqueness to the overall design, a lot of smart contrasting emotion in the lyricism & tone, and musically it’s as sharp as any of the tunes you’ll find on this record – they’ve done a great job with their attention to details and making sure you’ve got a fluid and smooth flow through the lineup of fifteen cuts here. All-in-all, I felt like with each rotation, I came to like “Her Smile” more & more…and that’s always a good thing; you’ll definitely find yourselves appreciating the inherent sweetness that come with Echo Strike.
A song like “Leaving” seems to capture what I’ve been looking for in the lead-vocals that I felt was being missed by just an inch or two on cuts like “Her Smile” and “Everything Hums” earlier on…and I’d be taking a look at why that is if I was Echo Strike – because this cut is a stellar example of pretty much everything going right and the mix being in the perfect place to suit this band the best. I was never 100% sure if it was the effects or the layers…or maybe even just a performance that could maybe have used another go around or two in the studio when it came to what I felt was missing from the other songs I mentioned at times – but in hearing how well those lead vocals can come out on “Leaving” – now I know what I want to hear from Echo Strike. Y’all know me…I might make the odd comparison in sound to other bands & artists in these reviews I write, but for the most part, I’m always comparing you, to what you create, specifically. When you hear what’s going right for Echo Strike vocally, that becomes the new standard that you know they’re capable of, and subsequently the one you want them to hit quality-wise each & every time thereafter. I could be wrong, but I suspect it’s actually the result of more clarity in the natural sound of Randy’s vocals as opposed to leaning more on the post-production effects – for the record, he’s got an exceptional voice that’s capable of many great things…and the more organic it seems to sound, the more apt we are as listeners to really absorb the emotion he puts into the microphone. “Leaving” is a song built on the tough-stuff of life thematically…and it felt like it was a great time for Echo Strike to have flexed strength in the face of adversity here, delivering one of their strongest performances in a more fragile setting like this. To be fair, melancholy melodies are generally what tend to resonate with me the most personally – but I can’t imagine anyone out there would hear this any different than I have – to me, it was inarguable that “Leaving” is one of the album’s best cuts. Most complete as well…there’s not a solitary second of this tune I felt like I’d even remotely change.
“Up For It” has some really solid moments in the songwriting that breakthrough in really bold ways, and part-for-part, it felt like Echo Strike really built something unique in this particular tune. That being said – it becomes harder to say that the versatility of this track has as much cohesion to it as people are gonna need when it comes to the ears of the everyday listener out there…time will tell here. My gut tells me that this track is likely to have a varied response to it by the folks out there checking out Dirty Clean Sexy Mean…and chances are, with each moment having such a defined sound or hooks of its own, people will gravitate towards their favorite spots here and appreciate them for being as memorable as they truly are. Like the main hook of the title for example – when Echo Strike hits that “Up For It” part in the vocals, to me, that’s the catchiest part of this song…for others, it could be something totally different, and that can obviously be a very good thing when it comes to catching the attention of the people out there. Where it kind of works a bit against them here on this cut is that you may not fall in love with the whole song 100% with all its flexibility & many directions leading this track into what’s actually more Progressive terrain than you might think given the sound & style of their music – but those are the facts…”Up For It” is a more involved tune on that level, thus more demanding on the listeners in that regard as well. Kind of like a low-key Maroon 5 digitalized cut here…but a much curvier line between point-A to point-B that your typical Pop-tinged tune will take you on, where each moment & part of this tune offers a significantly different energy than the last. When it comes to the whole fifteen songs thing…this is where I’d be looking hard at the choices being made objectively and what makes a record both the most cohesive it can be, with the most bulletproof material you can load into the set-list. As I’ve said just about a million times here on these pages of ours, for any artist out there to go a perfect 15/15 or anything beyond 10-12 songs is as spectacularly rare as an actual sighting of Bigfoot. “Up For It” is still well-worth a listen for its many ideas…but whether it serves the strengths of this record as a whole could be up for debate. Coming right after “Leaving” also makes it even tougher to absorb in the lineup as well…let’s face facts here folks, “Up For It” follows one of the album’s very best.
“Dangerous Woman” was an interesting tune…plenty of rhythm & groove here. Each time I felt like the verse was what was doin’ it for me the most, the build towards the chorus would come along and I’d be unsure of my choice…but I think I’ll stand by it overall. Not that it matters a tremendous deal, as a song overall, “Dangerous Woman” is pretty likely to please the majority out there with its colorful grooves. It’s once again a bit more on the clever side of Pop in that sense that, you’ll find the chorus itself will probably come as somewhat of a surprise to your ears in the way it’s designed; it’ll catch the attention of the ears out there, but more for the difference it has in its variety of sound than the hook itself – that make any sense? Where this song is really cookin’ most is through the musicianship you’ll find on display through from all angles – Juan Zeta’s got some really outstanding moments in how he’ll chime-in with a guitar lick here & there, makin’ them notes sing just as much as the vocals you’ll hear! It’s also an ambitious track as well that manages to explore a lot of terrain inside its three-minutes of length, giving you a solid dose of what’s working really well for them in both the music & vocals with solid balance.
Now that right there is a strong opening – “The Stranger” comes sliding through your speakers with thick & rich sound. What makes it really tough to examine afterwards, would be those Progressive tendencies inside of this Pop/Electro jam…it’s almost as if Echo Strike has moments where their own creativity can get the best of them in both senses of the meaning. Sometimes it works out extremely well – like, listen to the low-end rumble of the bass-lines that span this song – brilliant! The guitars in the background by Beau Newlin are as sharp, on-point, and well-played as ever; guitar solo, a little more questionable in its tone & whether that fully suits the vibe here. The vocals…have sensational moments, and other spots where the artistic terrain of the structure tends to take this band into what’s less sure sound…almost as if the experience is as unique to them as it is to us at the same time. I suspect this would be one of the final tracks added into the lineup if I had to make a guess – this sounds like the kind of track that in a couple years down the road, Echo Strike will look back on this and feel like they could potentially bring more to it than they might have here. It sounds like solid ideas that just need a lil’ more time incubating to have reached their maximum potential, but I do really like the fact that “The Stranger” is far from any kind of typical tune as well…there’s a lot of uniqueness that still breaks through to us in memorable ways here, and definitely speaks strongly on behalf of the fact that Echo Strike does things differently.
While it still may not be my favorite aspect of their vocal sound, the effects you’ll find on Randy’s voice are much more close to the mark as he sings “Demons” – and I felt like this was a really inventive & innovative tune when it comes to the lineup of songs on this record. Again, not fully sure that means that I’d have put it onto this particular album, or if I might have saved this for the next one and gone with something closer to twelve tunes through careful selection…but there’s a lot of promise & potential that you’ll hear in this song that you won’t in any other. Some of the ideas in here…some of the guitar moments too…they’re exquisitely rad…and ultimately, with a bit more time & refinement, I think they’re onto something here that offers Echo Strike yet another new avenue of sound they can always explore. As it stands now – “Demons” also happens to be one of the only tracks on the record where you might feel like there’s a jarring effect that occurs between the music & vocals clashing in the melody a bit. I’m not opposed to it at the end of the day – I think it’s more than clear after listening to this record that Echo Strike is less in their comfort zone on a track like “Demons” and I think the only way you ever reach that next level you want is through trial & error, learning & evolving. Lest we forget, according to the internet & the music released online, they’ve been around since roughly 2019…there’s a long, long way to go still when it comes to the length of a career and the ambitious scope of a band like this one; I can guarantee we’ll witness several evolutions of their sound over time, and right now they’re off to a great start. Inspiring really. Dirty Clean Sexy Mean is already their second record of 2021; I can hear a few reasons to slow down a little bit, but I can also hear how inspiration has taken hold of them as well; it really just depends on what the goals of the band are and what their shared vision of Echo Strike will be. As we all know, you can spend your whole life making one song – or you can put out records stocked full with fifteen and move right onto the next…it’s all about what works for YOU when it comes to your creativity and what you want the people out there to hear on a recording. Yeah. I’m all for pursuing new things, and I’d certainly encourage Echo Strike to keep on exploring avenues like this, but as with all music & art with the integrity to follow through into the wildest of ideas, some work out, some don’t as much. I still think there are lots of fantastic ideas on “Demons” that you definitely wouldn’t wanna miss.
There we GO though! That’s the rebound I wanted to hear. ”Alone” is inarguably one of the record’s tighter tunes and more accessible vibes from start to finish. Though it did become the second time I felt like I questioned Beau’s solos on this record when it came in early on in this song…it just seemed like somewhat of an afterthought; it’s not that it’s poorly played, it’s just that it feels like the space could have been used in a more engaging way. It’s quick though…and hardly the defining aspect of “Alone” – the rest of this song is perfectly in place and creates a wonderfully charismatic melody that has spark, energy, and colorful vibes pouring out of it. Overall, I’d definitely be happy with the results here if I was Echo Strike…not just on this particular song, but also on the album – they’ve tried five-record’s worth of stuff inside of one experience, and while the results have been a little varied, they’ve discovered tremendous victories along the way by being fearless & unafraid to be malleable with their material. Love the bass-lines in “Alone,” and I felt like you get one of Randy’s most confident performances here without question. So again, for example, whereas a song like “The Stranger” sounds a bit less direct in that sense, the opposite effect is found through “Alone” – so whatever causes that difference, whether it’s just the approach in the studio, or a newer song versus knowing the material inside & out, or perhaps the magic of the moment taking hold in the case of “Alone” – only they know what that is, but that’s what I’d be looking to harness. I think a lot of songwriters out there will appreciate this track though; not only is there a remarkably catchy tune right there on the surface to be enjoyed, but the more you dig into this song, the more you realize that, even with its sunny-side-up demeanor – “Alone” is a fairly miserable track when it comes to the lyrics! It makes for spectacular contrast and a song that’s bound to hold up long & strong over time, because there’s so much to get out of this one experience. I’d be inclined to be looking closely at this track as a potential single if I was in Echo Strike right now.
“Listen Hard” comes out with a really stellar groove to it, and plenty there for you in the verses to dig on, capturing another one of Randy’s stronger performances back-to-back between this & “Alone” right beforehand. This time around, he reminds me more of the guy singing for Eskimo Joe. Lyrically…I find I almost always draw to the same conclusions when it comes to listening to Echo Strike’s tunes…some of the design is fantastically poetic, some of it all rhymes a bit too much for my taste, feeling like Randy’s searching for the right phonetics as opposed to what might be a stronger word for its imagery in describing his thoughts. Some of it fits perfectly…well…all of it really…and maybe sometimes that’s what makes it a little bit weird too…I suppose it’s hard to explain. Anyhow – I don’t want anyone out there to get it twisted…I’m not really complaining about what I hear on “Listen Hard” – I think they’ve got a sweet sound goin’ on here, some thought-provoking words to come along with it, and ultimately, the positive & upbeat vibes of Echo Strike’s natural style break through here quite nicely. Rhythmic & smooth, “Listen Hard” promotes change & self-awareness, diving deep introspectively, while also backing out the view even further to have us consider these words & how they’d apply to our own lives.
The final track “Wait And See” has a solid Blues-meets-The-Stones type vibe goin’ on…there’s a looseness to this tune, but with the personality it has, it’s highly welcome. You get a lot of character here from Echo Strike in this last cut…and it’s another stellar example of just how many different facets of sound & style you’ll find on this one record. I like the extra soul you’ll hear in much of what Randy sings throughout this last track and felt like these vibes suited him really well. I do believe he has more in the tank though…and I’m always going to be the guy to advocate for him to go after it & get it, because he’s clearly more than capable with all I’ve heard throughout this record. Those longer notes where he’s holding onto one particular word & making it bend to the melody isn’t necessarily hurting him – but those are the moments of opportunity that exist for him to make his tone as bold as possible. Randy even resembles Roland Gift at times here too…so you do get a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the selection of style & sound you’ll hear flow throughout their last track “Wait And See” – but I’d be more than willing to bet the listeners out there feel like they’ve gone out with a solid highlight at the end of Dirty Clean Sexy Mean. Even adding the strings into the mix here for ya – how do you like that? Didn’t see that coming after all this now did ya? And perhaps we should have – Echo Strike has been more than willing to explore the fringes of their sound in whatever style they’ve chosen, and continually found inventive ways to get more out of their songs in noteworthy ways. There are plenty of times where I found myself thinking they could have made things even easier on themselves, and perhaps even discovered a more accessible sound in some of these tunes as a result; but by that same token, I was stoked about the way it didn’t feel like Echo Strike made any typical or predictable songs because of that. I’d definitely be interested in hearing more…because I really don’t know what to expect from them, and that’s always interesting to me…there’s really no telling how they’ll morph their sound & style from one track to the next, and it’s because of this approach, they’ll always find something truly unique.
Find out more about Echo Strike from their official website at: https://echostrike.com
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