Ulan Bator | Ego:Echo | ReviewRepetition, focus, and intensity define this album The last few minutes of Ego:Echo's opening track "Hemisphere" says much about their approach here. Over a slowly decaying bed of acoustic guitar, acoustic and electric pianos, Casio, and bass and drums, vocalist Amaury Cambuzat intones the word "repetition" (fortunately, this word means the same in the French this album is sung in as it does in English). The vocals are recorded in surgical focus: no doubt a talented team of acoustic technicians and pathologists could reconstruct Cambuzat's teeth, lips, and tongue by careful analysis of the recording. Repetition, focus, and intensity define this album: many songs develop over long periods of time (up to sixteen minutes in the case of "Let Go Ego").
Fortunately, that focus is rewarding: Ulan Bator deploys an impressive array of instruments and techniques, from the crystalline delicacy of "Hemisphere"'s largely acoustic instrumentation to the disturbed intensity of the dentist-drill electric guitar assault halfway through "Santa Lucia."
It's appropriate that ex-Swan Michael Gira (also Young God label guy) produced this CD: the blend of dark power and eerie delicacy is reminiscent of Swans' best work. Ulan Bator's music often evokes a potent sense of gloom and darkness, but the band never resorts to "industrial" cliches of cybermetallic guitars or doomy synths to achieve it. Instead, a full range of instruments is used: aside from guitars, bass, and percussion, Ulan Bator use harmonium, electric piano, a wheezy old Hammond organ, mellotron, trumpet and French horn (played by guest musician Jean Herve Peron of Faust), and such exotica as bowed percussion and "electronic sinfonia."
That last instrument powers the one-two knockout punch of the album's last two tracks. "Soeur Violence" ends with a braying drone featuring horns, electronics, and Gira's impression of a dying Buddhist monk, segueing directly into another, more apocalyptic drone that begins "Echo": sirens, mellotrons, guitars, and the sinfonia build to a peak and then suddenly cut off. One glassy Wurlitzer electric piano sounds a slow, deliberate series of notes, gradually enshrouded in a murky keyboard texture, until a series of pounding, razor-sharp guitar discords and martial drumming lead to the sheer cliff of an ending.
This isn't easy listening, and as Europeans Ulan Bator bring a more inclusive tolerance for musical approaches Americans might tend to call pretentious—but the band doesn't slacken or strive primarily to impress: all their intense focus is on the music.