K's Choice - Echo Mountain
Belgian band K's Choice first came to my attention when the haunting 'Virgin State of Mind' featured in one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's best episodes. For a band whose discography has spanned a decade and a half, it seems a shame that this is probably the greatest exposure they've had in the UK - although if you can remember back that far, you may have caught them supporting Alanis on her Jagged Little Pill tour. No? Didn't think so. For the band's first album in eight years (during which time lead singer Sarah Betten, the sister to co-founder and fellow band member Gert pursued a solo career), Echo Mountain the act have opted for a two-disc affair. Unlike most double albums, the record is not a mammoth kitchen-sink affair but instead a considered effort, with a separate sound forged on each disc.
The first disc opens with 'Come Live the Life', which begins as a sweet country ballad before morphing into the kind of ready-made radio anthem that Snow Patrol trade in. In fact, I get the impression that Gary Lightbody would be a fan of the entirety of Side A. The likes of the title track and 'Perfect' are examples of finely crafted guitar pop with catchy choruses pushed front and centre, and the warm and fuzzy 'Let It Grow' provides a hands-in-the-air, lighters-aloft moment. The punchy 'I Will Carry You' rocks a driving rhythm and 'If This Isn't Right' strikes me as femme-Ben Folds, closing part one in agreeable style.
Disc two opener 'Say a Prayer' instantly brings the mood and tempo down, setting the tone for the second act. Some of the more involving tracks appear here, beginning with the delicate and pretty 'These Are the Thoughts', which brings to mind Aimee Mann. Two tracks battle it out for 'highlight' honours: 'Killing Dragons' is a folky, medieval waltz that climaxes with almost Muse-esque pomp, and the combined result of 'America's melody, lyrics and layered harmonies recall Sufjan Stevens' take on, well, Americana. While it contains the standouts though, the second disc suffers from cloying sentimentality in parts, including swansong 'How Simple It Can Be' and the soppy mommy's-ode-to-child 'Along for the Ride'. The latter is in direct contrast to 'Say a Prayer', which is imbued with a certain bitterness as the protagonist seemingly berates her mother.
Even when you're listening to something too inoffensive for even the Grey's Anatomy soundtrack, K's Choice's greatest asset stops you from skipping to the next track. Sarah Betten's vocals glide over each track which, equal parts earthy and ethereal, are sure to be a hit with fans of 'adult contemporary' in the vein of Sarah McLachlan. While Echo Mountain won't win any awards for originality - and probably won't break the Top 100 mark here in the UK - it is worthy of a listen if you're a fan of solid songwriting and interesting female voices. One to stick on and wrap yourself up in when the clocks go back and it starts getting really cold.