For Against- Echelons (Words On Music)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

shine (4.05)
daylight (4.32)
get on with it (3.41)
echelons (4.02)
it's a lie (3.25)
autocrat (3.49)
forget who you are (3.30)
loud and clear (4.32)
broke my back (7.33)

For Against have always had a sound that is difficult to describe. One part Flying Nun/ New Zealand pop, one part jangly 80s power pop (think Wire Train or pre-caricature U2), For Against somehow arrived from the fields of mid-Eighties Nebraska. Vocalist Jeffrey Runnings has a distinctive, breathy and occasionally passionate sadness about his vocals. Coupled with the distinctive guitar jangle of Harry Dingman and the precision drum work of Greg Hill, For Against arrived with a sound everyone loved except for the marketing folks.

1987’s debut Echelons has long been a sought-after release for For Against fans. It was only released on vinyl and cassette in its day, and the condition of most existing recordings is sketchy at best. So it was with great celebration that Words On Music chose Echelons for remaster and release on CD.  

The music of For Against is often grounded in deception. They make you think Cure and surprise you with Crowded House. The track Loud and Clear is a good example. It sounds like an early New Model Army or Sisters Of Mercy, until the vocals kick in. Indeed there is a strange, or at least unexpected, strand of Goth at the spine of many of the tracks on Echelons. But the heavy thumping bass, quick/ distinct drums and fluid user-friendly vocals somehow manage to be at once dark and upbeat. It is this kind of anomaly that defines the For Against sound.

From Echelons, the standout track for me has always been the recursive Forget Who You Are. Kicking in with a Shriekback-like drum and bass drone, Runnings’ voice rises through the shadows with a catchy “You’re a star, you’re a star, you’re a star” that is elemental and simply infectious.

With any reissue the leading question is always, “How does it sound?” In the case of Echelons, the answer is a resounding- “Fine.” It’s not 5.1 sound, it’s not remastered to maximum volume, and it’s certainly not a different experience than hearing the original vinyl. It’s just a solid, competent remaster. No fireworks necessary.

Opening up a Bruce Licher-designed sleeve is as close as you’ll get these days to the excitement once felt slicing open a 12” record. Indeed some of his more recent Scenic designs were akin to opening a Christmas present, with each layer revealing unexpected surprises. The Echelons reissue is no disappointment, with the original art reinforced with a and the desert-stamped tans and grains that are the foundation of Licher’s design sense. I understand the original vinyl Echelons was actually packaged with a strand of real actual wheat. Not sure if this is just my memory getting kooky with me, but it’s a pretty cool concept nonetheless.

Words On Music informs me that the For Against classic December will soon follow in reissue format. If that the case, look forward to seeing it covered here, and let’s hope it gets the same star treatment given to Echelons.



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