Welcome to Browsing the Bins, my new music and pop culture review column. This name refers to one of my all-time favorite activities, spending countless hours at record shops combing meticulously through the bins in search of new artists, out of print CDs and other musical goodies. Similarly, I hope that this column allows readers to make some new musical discoveries of their own.
To get it started, I am profiling two recent albums from the Belgian band K’s Choice – the American release of both 2010’s Echo Mountain and its 2011 successor Little Echoes.
Formed in the early ‘90s by siblings Sarah and Gert Bettens, K’s Choice became known for combining the dynamics of alternative rock with catchy pop hooks to create a sound that successfully straddled the two genres. Although the band never enjoyed mainstream popularity in the U.S., its “Not An Addict” video from the Paradise In Me album did manage some decent airplay in 1996. K’s Choice released two more studio albums, 1998’s Cocoon Crash and 2002’s Almost Happy, before taking an extended hiatus.
A few years ago, Sarah and Gert began swapping demos and songs by email which sparked new interest in recording and performing together again and which ultimately culminated in the 2010 release of the band’s fifth studio album, Echo Mountain.
Containing 14 tracks spread over 2 CDs, Echo Mountain finds K’s Choice trolling familiar musical waters with plenty of songs that build dynamically before releasing to an emotional finish. The set-starting “Come Live The Life,” “Perfect” and the title track are all excellent examples of this slow-crescendo style.
Although the old formula is present throughout, Echo Mountain’s overall tone is a bit mellower than past offerings. This is as much a reflection of maturity as it is a statement of new intentions and the quieter approach allows Sarah’s voice to shine on standout tracks like “Say A Prayer,” “16,” “Along For The Ride” and “When I Lay Beside You,” a beautiful love song that is easily the first disc’s highlight.
Sarah’s unique and memorable voice is showcased further on Little Echoes, the follow-up release to Echo Mountain. This 12-song set is the band’s first all-acoustic recording and features a mix of new originals, covers, and bare-bones takes on songs from the K’s Choice catalog.
“Killing Dragons” from Echo Mountain showcases the beautiful Bettens family harmonies and thrives is this stark and haunting new environment, while the aforementioned “Come Live The Life” manages to maintain its original form when stripped of electric instrumentation.
The covers emerge as the most compelling tracks on this album, especially the true-to-original “Cannonball” by singer/songwriter Damien Rice and Radiohead’s sublime “No Surprises.” The band even takes a stab at The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited,” but I haven’t quite made up my mind on this one yet. The unexpected harmonica solo is a nice touch, but I’m having trouble shaking the original from my mind.
Echo Mountain and Little Echoes are both very good releases from a vastly underappreciated band. K’s Choice fans will no doubt enjoy both albums, but if you are just discovering the band th]e 2003 compilation 10: 1993-2003 Ten Years of K’s Choice is a great jump-off point.