Singer-songwriter Ecki doesn’t want to be compared to Jeff Buckley. But, to be honest, if there’s any lazy journalistic pigeonholing to be done it isn’t Buckley’s name that will crop up, nor that of Nick Drake, another of his worries. No, despite Ecki’s concerns, he’s not really in the same league. That’s not to say this isn’t a good album – on the contrary, it’s a strong debut – but original and groundbreaking it isn’t.
In fact, the artist who comes to mind the most on listening to Punchdrunk, the first album from the oddly-monikered rock photographer from Suffolk, is the ubiquitous Damien Rice. This is especially true when listening to songs such as the dreamy Under the Dust, a delicate, ethereal, if rather repetitive track. It’s a good song but the echoes are there.
Ecki has a sweet, strong, if not outstanding voice, which he puts to good use throughout this collection of gentle, acoustic melodies. And he’s an engaging lyricist, even if he lacks the darker heart of a Tom McRae. Ecki’s songs are bittersweet but optimistic. “I will save you, if you’ll save me too,” he concludes on the album’s closing track.
Punchdrunk opens with Rare Sun, a mellow, cello-tinged introduction to his style of songwriting. Second track Under The Dust, as mentioned, has a laidback, hypnotic quality and Never Quite Got It Right provides a welcome change in tempo, waking things up a bit. Paris and New York, one of the best tracks here, contains appealing traces of Neil Young, which is certainly no bad thing, and Back On Your Side pairs a lively driving guitar with lyrics that ponder “every subtle sign that we’re all slowly dying,” managing to be one of the album’s catchiest tracks despite that incongruity. The piano-led Pulse ii briefly blends his voice with that of co-vocalist Odette Michell to very pleasant effect, though it sounds like the intro to something grander that never comes. Firesong is another strong track that just doesn’t take off in the way that you’d want; maybe live it’s a different matter.
Perhaps it’s because of the sheer inescapability of Damian Rice’s album O over the past eighteen months, but his is a name that circulates in your mind again and again as you listen to this, maybe because of the occasional use of a female vocalist. Having said that, Punchdrunk is an album that grows on you; it has undoubted charms, gentle as they may be. You have to wonder about that name though. Ecki? Having flicked through the liner notes I’m guessing it’s short for Ecclestone, but still…
So, no Jeff Buckley comparisons forthcoming just yet, but there are definitely enough moments here, when a distinctive, individual voice shines through the familiar generic singer-songwriter stuff, to keep your interest.