Review: Directions – “Echoes” (Anniversary Edition)

A seemingly incidental sliver of indie music history is being given the special edition re-release treatment by Temporary Residence, and God bless the label for it. This month sees the anniversary re-release of Echoes, the much-sought-after sophomore EP starring musical polymath Ken (née Bundy K.) Brown, here alone in many iterations of the word. The EP features the two sides from the original vinyl copy, both variations on the title track, plus a 1995 demo working through the material, and a must-listen remix from Chicago crew Deadly Dragons. There are no surprises here – this is Brown, in his element and at the peak of his abilities – but the record is an engaging and enticing meal on which to feast your ears, an interesting mélange of Tortoise’s post-rock visions of jazz, Brown’s later remix work with the likes of Sam Prekop and Aerial M and spiritual hip-hop.

Many of us know Brown’s resume, of course. He belted out a mean bass in post-hardcore icons Bastro, then followed David Grubbs and John McEntire as they morphed that three-piece lineup, pre-O’Rourke, into the grand, experimental outfit Gastr del Sol. Then, Brown cut out of Gastr, appeared (glowingly) on a few Seam LPs and helped form Tortoise, again with McEntire on the kit. Shortly thereafter, he left Tortoise, replaced by the likes of Slint’s David Pajo, to form Directions. You following me? Thrill Jockey Records released a Directions LP titled, not surprisingly, Directions in Music in ’96 – none of the songs had titles – with Brown playing alongside James Warden and June of 44’s Doug Scharin. The second Directions release, this time out just featuring Brown, was not made widely available.

Which is part of what makes Echoes so goddamned magical. With its slithery bass, pulsing xylophone and groove-oriented percussion, the song’s two sides link together a lot of Brown’s nascent projects in a way the previous paragraph couldn’t. There’s the “Continental Drift” take on “Echoes,” also known as Side A, which features all sorts of faux solos and riffing from horns and even sitar, all carefully placed above a looped and seemingly incidental bass aside. Side B – titled here “The Assymetrical Excursion” – is a little sparer but toys with similar tropes and otherworldly textures.

The 1995 demo, a new, recently unearthed find, features the horns that make themselves readily available on the two sides before it, but not the looped bass – and the absence makes the track feel a little sparse in spots. Interesting to see how Brown was laying or carving out the musical journey in his mind, though.

Then, there’s the remix from Deadly Dragons – a.k.a., in Temporary Residence’s words, “the 1990s Chicago DJ crew whose members included Brown, John Herndon, Casey Rice and Daniel Givens, among others.” The Deadly Dragons remix turns Brown’s somewhat laidback, even loungey groove on its head, toying with time signatures and inverting and truncating melodies. The piece, which runs eight minutes or so (almost as long as Side A), is a great afterthought about the LP and a reassessment of its instrument-solo stylings and locked grooves.

For a spell in the mid-‘90s, Brown was everywhere in Chicago circles and, in hindsight, he is not mentioned enough among the iconic players of the scene and of the era. The new version of Echoes, if there’s any justice left in this world, will repair some of that wrong and place Brown in the canon alongside bandmates and those who still tough it out on the circuit to this day. It’s a slight record but an utterly transfixing one – and that sort of assessment isn’t bad for anyone’s legacy. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Sept. 13, 2021


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.