VOLUME DEALERS The Echoes troop. [Photo by Freddie Ross]
PVD-based instrumental quartet A Troop of Echoes execute a triumphant return with The Longest Year On Record, the long-awaited follow-up to Days In Automation, their 2010 debut. The band has carved out a unique blend of experimental math-rock, somewhere between Thurston Moore and Thelonious Monk, driven by the saxophone of Troop founder Pete Gilli. A Troop of Echoes will wrap up a 10-day tour with a hometown finale at AS220 on Tuesday (the 24th).
The Longest Year On Record simmers and swells, and I would certainly agree with the band’s recent proclamation: “We think it’s kind of a beast.” Saxophonist Gilli, along with guitarist Nick Cooper and the fully calibrated rhythm section of Dan Moriarty (drums) and Harrison Hartley (bass), described The Longest Year On Record as the “lush, expansive, and very, very loud album we’ve always wanted to make” and noted the long hours spent “re-framing and re-making” the foursome’s core sound. The album leaps to life with the opening “Manifest and Legion,” the meanest Troop cut since “Providence Public Defender” from Automation. The ghost of Sonic Youth smolders on the first single, “Small Fires,” with Gilli and Cooper whipping up a nice fury. Xylophone, cello, and violin complement the heavier moments, while multiple horns and trumpet (courtesy of Roomful of Blues ace Doug Woolverton) arrive on the mellower cuts “Arecibo,” “Kerosene,” and “Broadway Ghost.” And the Assembly of Light Choir provides a gorgeous send-off on the title track, which also features a “percussion ensemble” of 20 additional drummers pounding away on floor toms inside the band’s practice space.
“We had already finished the horn section and string arrangements at that point, and had a plan to overdub Dan playing a bunch of toms over and over to get a big, swelling drum sound,” recalled Gilli earlier this week while out on the road. “Then we sort of said, ‘Screw it — what if we just invited 20 drummers over and did it all at once?’ ”
Even with all the musician friends and marquee guests, The Longest Year On Record is a DIY effort. While Days In Automation was recorded at the sonic goldmine that is Machines With Magnets, the band decided to record the album in their cavernous rehearsal/living space (over a whopping 130 hours) and jumped at the chance to work with producer and childhood friend Graham Mellor.
And that album title certainly is not lost on Gilli and his bandmates (FYI, the band’s moniker was inspired by a line from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Haunted Palace); drummer Moriarty came up with the album title early on while the band was having difficulty just getting the project up and running — “and there was a lot more to come, at that point,” said Gilli, referencing his untimely (and completely unexpected) bout with a neuromuscular condition that began early last year. It started with pain in the wrists and loss of voice, and eventually sapped the strength in his limbs and impaired his ability to walk. He came back and recorded in August, and has been able to perform while undergoing physical therapy. And though Gilli has yet to receive a successful diagnosis, doctors ruled out sever neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s or MS.