Sounds like … synth-pop/techno of '80s and '90s groups like Depeche Mode, New Order, Mortal, and Code of Ethics
At a glance … The Winter of Our Discontent is a beautifully crafted album that combines ethereal ambience and programmed rhythms with techno beats and modern effects, united by poetic lyrics from a Christian worldview
The Echoing Green has been making music for more than ten years, but they haven't been able to stick with one record company. The Albuquerque, New Mexico based synth-pop group has bounced from one Christian label to another, only to have each go out of business after an album or two. Tired of having their music go out of print with each label's demise, The Echoing Green is now content with being an independent artist on the indie label A Different Drum; it may mean fewer sales, but the business arrangements are more stable. The Echoing Green has since reacquired the rights to their past albums and released an anthology called The Evergreen Collection. Group mastermind Joey Belville also keeps busy producing albums and designing artwork for other Different Drum projects, and long-time collaborator Chrissy Jeter (formerly Franklin) contributes vocals to other groups as well.
Now Belville and Jeter have reunited for The Winter of Our Discontent, offering more of the programmed synth-pop that has defined their career from the beginning. But don't assume this project is somehow second-rate because it's not a major release or because it's "Christian synth-pop." On the contrary, Discontent ranks among the best of The Echoing Green's work, with Belville tackling the bulk of the production, programming, and mixing. Some artists take too much of a purist approach to synth-pop, insisting on sounds that are a little too "sci-fi" and whimsical for most to appreciate. Others don't get creative enough, opting for clichéd techno beats with little to no variation.
The Echoing Green is neither, and while they may not be as progressive as someone like Radiohead, their blend of ambience and dance beats is near perfect. If you still haven't heard them or find yourself nostalgic for '80s synth-pop icons like Depeche Mode, New Order, Code of Ethics, and Mortal, this album is for you. From the simple-yet-captivating synth intro of "Daybreak" and into the classic '80s beats of the first song, "The Story of Our Lives," the album explores the conflict of emotions between life on earth and the hope of heaven: "Anything and everything is meaningless/When forever's waiting we're captive to this place … for now." This theme—a reminder of Paul's earthly/eternal conflict in Philippians 1:21-24—is explored again in the trance music of "Someday," with these lyrics: "Someday we will leave here/And someday we might fly."
Belville and Jeter give examples of earthly pleasure and pain throughout The Winter of Our Discontent. Jeter sings of love in "Starling," harmonizing her vocals through multi-track recording to beautiful effect. Belville also sings of true love in the equally poetic "Heidi's Song," with sunny dance pop reminiscent of '80s pop group When in Rome. In stark contrast is "Fall Awake," a darker track that seems to blend Depeche Mode with early Nine Inch Nails to convey the mixed emotions of compassion and despair from watching a loved one self-destruct. Even more industrial sounding is "Blind," about falling into temptation and the lie of sin: "The peace in your mind is deceptive by design/The pride behind your eyes is blinding."
Also thrown into the mix are two cover songs. There's a brooding electonica version of "Bittersweet," a song originally by '90s Tooth & Nail band Velour 100, and a thrilling techno rendition of Simple Minds' "New Gold Dream" that sounds like Duran Duran's most modern work. The album closes hopefully with "Winter," a techno-trance closer which asks, "And all the prayers that I have yet to say/And all the grace I've somehow pushed away/If I look up today, can I fly away, cry away?" In response to his own question, Belville closes the song with the lyric, "From the endless ride, the hell inside/There's someone to confide."
The problem with being an indie artist is that the music never finds a broader audience. Granted, electronic pop is a niche market, and this album is easily available through several Web sites (including our links to Amazon.com). But it's a shame when music this skillfully crafted goes largely unnoticed. The Winter of Our Discontent makes me glad The Echoing Green has persevered all these years, and offers the hope of more great electonica to come.