For Against

Echelons

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It may be strange or unusual to think of it this way, but For Against's debut, Echelons, first appearing in 1986 then finally reissued in 2004, was in its own fashion one of the most important releases of its time. The incipient then explicit wave of U.K. post-punk-inspired bands that followed in the trio's wake over many years, leading eventually to the wider notice given to groups like Interpol, has definite roots here as well as in the work of groups like the Abcederians. Balancing an at once crisp, brisk pace and just enough dreaminess in the guitar work, Echelons is a work of nervous tension throughout. Jeffrey Runnings' singing aims for a quiet, resigned melancholy. As opposed to, say, Morrissey's passionate dramatics, Runnings is the lost ghost in the machine, quick studies of emotional battlefields, and not-always-happy endings (and on "Loud and Clear," useless record companies, though that well-worn trope gets handled well enough here). His balance of that against his strong, at points doom-laden, bass playing is often striking; consider the instrumental break on "Daylight," where his work adds a distinct glower to the arrangement. Guitarist/keyboardist Harry Dingman III knows his Factory releases and Martin Hannett productions, certainly, but there's a breadth there that results in a rich texture, suggesting what Robert Smith might have done had the Cure's early rushed energy remained a touchstone for that band's later work. The generally bright sound tinged with darker overtones throughout gets broken up just enough by distinctly colder mood-outs; the title track in particular is practically the equal of, say, "A Forest" in terms of theme and mood, while "Forget Who You Are" is especially majestic, a bass and keyboard-led blend of dark shadows and sharp drumming from Greg Hill. If Echelons has a distinct sound that doesn't change dramatically for most of the album -- and comparatively speaking, the follow-up, December, showcases an even stronger set of songs and performances -- it's still a spectacular listen.

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