It becomes fitting, upon listening to Pelican's music, that the band hails from Chicago. When Tortoise and their contemporaries ushered in a new wave of instrumental music over a decade ago from the Windy City, it was a pastiche of genre-defying sound, simultaneously cohesive and expansive in influence. Similarly, Pelican's songs touch on so much from the canon of rock music. Yet they have refined their own sound over the course of their career—perhaps nowhere as progressively and courageously as on their third full-length, City of Echoes.
When the quartet's first full length, Australasia, came out in late 2003, it was an experiment in crushing heaviness, albeit melodic and compositionally a breed apart from their contemporaries. The songs excelled in opening themselves up: where there were glacier-thick walls of guitars, there were also shifts and nuances that gave the songs room to breathe. These nuances became even more pronounced on Pelican's 2005 sophomore album, The Fire in our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw. The band's recordings have all been issued on Hydra Head Industries, ostensibly a metal label. Yet on this second full length, it became apparent that the band had more in common with Slint and Hum than Slayer. Less amplified and ambient-style breaks in songs became more frequent while many of the riffs themselves became triumphant in nature. Whereas earlier material was imbued in a minor-chorded wall of sound, Pelican aimed skyward in full embrace of major keys and overtly uplifting melodies. Calling them simply a "metal" band at that point became inaccurate.
Now, with City of Echoes, a new step in Pelican's evolution is unveiled. However, this new album doesn't depict a shift as much as it exemplifies maturation. Growth is in the sharpened and charged delivery, and the clarity that the band's dynamics are finally afforded. Pelican has always reveled in textured progressions, but this new album showcases more twists and unexpected turns; songs with more of a narrative or lyrical feel. And as evidenced by the post-DC-punk influenced title track, the band's disparate influences are urgently clear—Failure and Jawbreaker are now easier reference points, thanks to a stellar recording by Andrew Schneider (Keelhaul, Cave In, Old Man Gloom). Fans of the band's heavier side won't be disappointed, though, with behemoths like "Dead Between the Walls" and "Bliss in Concrete." And whereas past recordings seemed to push forward Laurent Schroeder-Lebec and Trevor de Brauw's dynamic guitar playing, this album finds the rhythm section of brothers Larry and Bryan Herweg more exhilarating and present than ever before. "Far From Fields," "Lost in the Headlights" and "Spaceship Broken – Parts Needed"—songs inspired by spending months criss-crossing the country in a van—show Larry and Bryan finding exceptional new ways to drive the songs as a whole, rather than simply backing the guitar lines.
However, growth isn't only musical; it's also philosophical. "City of Echoes stands for the feeling of sameness brought on by globalization. It's visiting countries and seeing slight differences through the window, only to end up at the club and feel like you didn't see anything at all," explains Schroeder-Lebec. "But it's also a tribute to the joy that burns inside when you reach a place and people who don't speak your language are rooting for your songs and welcoming you into their unique environment." Two years on the road have tightened bonds and intensified the creative niche that Pelican has created. In a sense, then, amidst the steadily-creeping globalization that the band witnessed, they continue to perfect a musical space all their own—a center that eclipses the long days spent away from family and friends, their nights echoes of one another from one city to the next.