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For Against - Echelons

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Artist: For Against

Album: Echelons

Label: Words On Music

Review date: Sep. 13, 2004

As they close in on two decades of opaque, complex jangle-pop, Lincoln, Nebraska’s For Against seem to have finally found a label that cares about them, regardless of how much it can do to foist them on the college town introspectors that could really benefit from their existence. Last winter’s Coalesced was the trio’s highest-resolution work to date. As a point of contrast, Words On Music has re-released FA’s 1986 debut, which illustrates how far a band can expand within a restrictive new-wavey framework.

Echelons suffers from the same soggy production that hindered untold legions of 80's dream-pop also-rans. Jeffrey Running’s basslines protrude from the mix like a pace-car driven while impaired. His thin-but-soaring vocals are still near the back of the mix, which has always strengthened the songs as wholes, but here they’re so far out in the mist that his gruelingly self-loathing lyrics are all but lost to history.

A handful of tunes forecasts the rare songwriting acumen Runnings would develop in time for 1995's Mason’s California Lunchroom, particularly the opener “Shine,” which belongs in the canon alongside the best stuff of later albums. Well, maybe it’s too repetitive to stand with the moody shafeshifters on Coalesced. A lot of this stuff is. And much of it draws quite heavily from Murmur and Joy Division, obvious influences For Against would later mix into its own blend. (“Loud and Clear” even drops a cheeseball Peter Schilling synth line.)

Oddly, “Loud and Clear” and “Forget Who You Are” vent fury on the music industry that eventually faded, even as For Against hopped labels and failed to find the audience it always deserved.

Echelons serves primarily as a historical curio, snapshots of a brilliant band growing up in the studio, waiting to transcend the times. It’s got enough solid material (the slow-thawing title cut, the crisp “Get On With It,” the aforementioned “Shine” and one or two others) to make it a cinch recommendation for the group’s fans. And if you would've like the Smiths if they’d kept the pain and 86ed the gratuitous self-pity, I recommend that you become a fan.

By Emerson Dameron

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