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May 2005 Pick of the Month

The Winter of our Discontent [Special Edition]
Artist: the echoing green
Label: BEC Recordings/ A Different Drum
Length: 13 Tracks, 59:00

Recently signed onto the Tooth and Nail subsidiary label BEC, the echoing green was given a chance to birth their most recent underground baby into the wider populace with the help of the larger, more mainstream label.  Now mind you, I usually despise it when an artist re-releases a previously- especially if it was a recently- released record with one or two “bonus” tracks and calls it a Special Edition.  It’s unfair to the band’s close fanbase and anyone else who picked up the older, now incompetent version.  Thank you, I would like some Gouda with my Merlot.

But despite my misgivings, this new version of the disc is actually commendable in some ways.  I was relatively impressed with the original version--songs such as “Someday,” “Apology,” “Fall Awake,” the cover of Velour100’s “Bittersweet,” and the absolutely phenomenal “The Story of Our Lives” were all great tracks, and worthy of admission on their own; but some of the other tracks I felt were far less impressive, lacking in good hooks or strong melodies.  What this recent Special Edition does is replace two of the weaker tracks of the original version with two better ones--“Heidi’s Song” and “New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84)” with “Epiphany” and “The Sparrows and the Nightingales”--then adds one more song from last summer’s The Story of Our Lives EP and an Echo Image remix of “The Story of Our Lives” to cap off the record.  It improves the latter half the disc quite a bit, actually. 

The new material added--and the old stuff cut out-makes this Special Edition worth checking out for two reasons- it is both better and different from the original.  Die-hard fans of the echoing green should pick this one up (if you haven’t already) to not only get a slightly better version of tWooD, but because it is just different enough to make it a slightly new listen.  Anyone who has not yet purchased _tWooD_ would do themselves well to get this one instead of the original- and since the Special Edition is far more widely available (and supporting our favorite, lovable underground synthpop band is worth it), everything works out dandy.

Jonathan Avants,   March 14, 2005

There's a reason Winter of Our Discontent was already a pick of the month at the Tollbooth. At the time of its release, this reviewer called it "syrupy sweet synth pop. Warm bass lines, aggressive beats, luscious harmonies, and beautiful melodies add up to terrific pop songs." It was true at the time of its indie release, and its still true now.

The album features what may well be the best song Joey B. has ever written. "Story of Our Lives" is one of the great pop songs of this or any time.

While it's understandable this re-release for BEC Recordings would not be identical to the version from A Different Drum, the independent synth pop label, it omits one of the best songs from that release. Starting with songs like "Ambler" on the classic _Hope Springs Eternal_ Joey's songs have increasingly become personal and poetic reflections. "Heidi's Song" features some of Joey's most winsome lyrics yet. But this special edition release has dropped that song, along with "New Gold Dream" another of the standout tracks from the original release. So in addition to buying this new copy, fans will want to pick up the earlier version, for these two songs alone. The songs replacing those two are solid, but not as good.

It's encouraging to see BEC's interest in the band. This is a group that, despite its loyal fanbase, has never found its niche among Christian labels. Grunge, ska, punk, and other flavors of the month always garnered label support. BEC's no major label, but it does have a substantial following as a part of the Tooth & Nail family of record companies. Hopefully that credibility and a financial push could get this spectacular album into more hands.

The theme of winter is woven through the album, as Joey B. sings about the cold, gray world around him. Yet in the end, he simply longs for grace. Joey Belville's production skills have always been good, but have never been better than they are here. Virtually everything was played, created, and recorded on a computer. Yet the album maintains a warm, joyous feel.  The original release may well be the group's most consistent album to date, although the special edition loses some of the thematic coherence.

Buy the new edition, if for no other reason that to support a band that deserves it. The music won't disappoint. But don't stop there. If you love hook-laden pop music, pick up the indie release to experience how warm Winter can sound.

Steve White 4/14/05



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