Re-release (originally released in 2000 - produced by Michael Gira)
Former Swans founder, Michael Gira's Young God Label is quickly establishing itself as one of Manhattan's most vital outlets for consistently challenging new music. With the release of France's Ulan Bator's second album, the group has progressed tremendously. Cleanly produced by Gira himself, Ego:Echo brings together a wide spectrum of musical ideas and influences with its nine extended pieces. Many of the tracks meld elements of Jazz, Noise, and electronic music within carefully composed, continuously engaging structures. The haunting quietude of "Hemisphere" sounds somewhat like a collaboration between early Tortoise and recent Yo La Tengo, whereas tracks like "Santa Lucia" feature the dissonant guitar squall reminiscent of early Sonic Youth. Although Ulan Bator show their influences, the band generally maintains a fairly distinct sound, moving from passages of somber melodic subtlety to others of controlled chaos. Ego:Echo is a mature, complex record by a band that shows significant promise.
(Paul Lemos - UNDER THE VOLCANO)
Repetition, 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.
(Jeffrey Norman - Milk Magazine)