Willamette: Echo Park

That Echo Park appears on Infraction is the first promising harbinger of this recording's high quality. The second is that the heretofore unfamiliar Willamette is actually a side-project by the brothers Chong aka Northern, whose 2007 release Drawn still holds up as a splendid example of ambient scene-painting, along with Joseph Edward. The ten settings on Echo Park don't disappoint on grounds of evocation, and whatever impressions the album's reveries provoke are helped along by allusive titles such as “New York Heat,” “Buried Presidents,” and “Suicide Dream.” Willamette's plaintive sound is very much “in the tradition,” so to speak, with the trio's grainy meditations also featuring contributions from cellist Danny Norbury. “New York Heat” and “Buried Presidents” in particular are enhanced by his presence, with his flowing lines bolstering the emotional impact of the pieces and deepening their lyrical qualities.

Much of Willamette's wistful material unfurls slowly and is, more often than not, drenched in crackle and dust, a move that lends the tracks a time-weathered and nostalgic character. It's largely instrumental, though voices emerge during “Buried Presidents,” even if their faint presence is gradually subsumed by the slow-motion surge of the ambient tones and Norbury's winsome cello. Tracks such as “Escaping the Memory” and “Echo Park” neatly encapsulate the Williamette sound in their stately, quasi-symphonic presentation, and Willamette's own self-descriptions—“minimal works for tape, silence, voice and various stringed instrumentation” and “romantic music for the old and lackluster”—turn out to be not too far off target. Finally, one of the things that makes Echo Park separate itself from the ambient crowd is concision. “We're Still Here” and “Mid-August, For Rachel” manage to present themselves as fully realized, despite their each being less than two minutes in length, and not one of the ten pieces pushes past the six-minute mark. That's a rare thing in a genre more characterized by long-form “epics.”

January 2012