By Josh Landry
For their first full length, Spanish duo Oikos have created “Ecotono”, an enigmatic guitar texture album of singular voice, compassion and heart. They borrow from the maudlin over-emotionality and distortion worship of shoegaze as well as the filmic vastness and finality of post rock, but their music is somehow wiser, more universal, than your average specimen of either genre. Oikos places a comforting hand on the listener’s shoulder, and presents a soundtrack to fond recollection of days of connection with nature and other human beings.
The soundspace they construct is an open, outdoor vista, and indeed may cause the listener to flashback to experiences of intense natural beauty. The borders of a reverberant canyon are outlined by sound. Like light patterns on the surface of the ocean, the sound is both texturally constant and endlessly shifting. Distortion is ubiquitous, and though it has little sharpness and does not displease the ear, neither is it an indistinct wash of echo. In this mix, there is sound at all levels of closeness and distance. Oikos have proved themselves knowing craftsmen, capable of taming/tempering the violent and treble-heavy heart of the guitar amplifier.
Each of these tracks is a full spectrum swell, with gradual additive layering of volume, feeling, and timbral scope through vast, shimmering delays, echoes and feedback. Oikos have evidently decided that any pause or ebb in sound would be counterproductive. Rich, solidified drone pitch serves as anchor, and each song becomes a towering vertical construction.
Before this rising and thickening of the sound, notes and chords are sometimes left naked, in discernable metric rhythm and strumming motion (”Boreas”). These are rare glimpses of Oikos’ musical logic, largely intuitive or veiled by effects for the greater part of the album. In these moments, it is clear that these scintillating slabs of texture are built upon intelligent, subtle progressions and quasi-song-like forms, and my respect for the group only deepens. Only in the final moments of closer “Jatavena” does the careful web of tonality destabilize into a storm of rough hewn metallic string noise, and even this is no dramatic derailing from the by-now-familiar trajectory, rather an expressive flourish due to intensity overflow.
For later tracks, loop-driven patterns come to the fore, density is lessened and the newfound sonic transparency only accentuates the depth and warmth of the sounds. In the surprisingly minimalist and lo-fi “Red Forest”, mystery looms thick as thieves. A clanking fuzz-textured loop builds a waltz rhythm that soon becomes the perfect frame of reference for the snakey meandering of a vibrant synth string patch. The surreal simplicity of this basic sound is overloaded with embellished distortion harmonics, and the primal, plodding feel of the track is akin to a more melodic TenHornedBeast.
Essentially, “Ecotono” stands head and shoulders above the majority of guitar texture music, completely devoid of pretense, tired musical systems and overblown, wallowing melodrama. A powerfully emotional recording that undoubtedly improves with repeated listenings, this album may even convert those who ordinarily find themselves less than enchanted with walls of distortion through the unusually tonal stylings of its drones. Oikos has made a masterful addition to the already impressive Utech catalogue.
Thank you Josh!