“There may be some classic cinematic connections to the work of Jimmy Behan. In the epic masterwork of schmaltz & tears, Sissi, the peoples of Hungary are crowning their new king Franz Joseph I on top of a small artificial mountain erected by piling up samples of earth from their respective provinces. In a scene of similar emotional impact from Marco Bechis’ recent drama La terra degli uomini rossi (Birdwatchers), meanwhile, Brazilian Indians demonstrate their deep relationship with the soil by grabbing a handful and eating it – to the bewilderment of a “21st century” planter. The message of these rituals is clea: Whether we accept it or not, we are all inherently rooted in the place we were born, even though the de-branching tendency of these times of sending us from one anonymous place to the next is wiping out the comforting reassurance of these ties. For Behan, too, there is a place with great emotional resonance, buried in the chinks of his memory: A narrow and winding track along the river which, in his childhood imagination, would lead him all the way to the end of the world. The Echo Garden, for Behan, marks the musical return to this path in an effort of reconciling the artistic possibilities and inspirations of the big city with the urgent need of belonging somewhere.
The personal relevance of this theme may explain why the full-length follow-up to Behan’s widely applauded debut Days Are What We Live In, at one time tentatively announced for 2006, is now published with a three year delay. In fact, it may be a completely different record altogether. Defining a corresponding palette of ideas and timbres demanded time and attention, as the focus shifted from working on arrangements and thematic development to exploring the inner life of sounds. Delineating which tools and techniques NOT to use and how to avoid a regular instrumentation of Guitars, Bass and Drums took on seminal importance. Samples, with their inbuilt associations and metaphorical allusions, were shed. Instead, The Echo Garden aims at creating a self-referential microcosm, based upon harmony, intimacy and fluent lines of demarcation between music, colour, spatial sound effects and a quiet world of organic noises.
Even though there is both a clear narrative development to the album as a whole (its track listing opens with Awake and closes with Dusk) as well as a lot of inward movement to each piece, its gentle gestures and the absence of any kind of target vector create a sensation of peaceful tranquility and complete calm. One of the compositions is called Clock For No Time, and its title effectively describes the agreeable separation of the inner and outer experience of time so characteristic of those days spent in the intense now of youthful exploration. It is almost as though, as a spectator, one were weightlessly reclining on the ground along the water, gazing on the playful dance of dragonflies and birds in the air. On Pools, a piano paints dabbers of cloudy white into the sky’s shimmering blueness, its at first solitary tones coalescing into an elegantly shaped pattern for a striking second, before gradually disintegrating again. Quasi-canon Rust, by contrast, feeds from the graceful tension of two almost identical melodic lines flowing increasingly out of sync with each other.
Even though Behan is guiding his acoustic needle with the firm hands of a weaver working on a tapestry of gossamer silk and despite prior claims towards wanting to “get rid of all the music”, the record has nonetheless turned out a collection of tracks with a mind of their own. Each of them presents a new idea, in turn relying on a looped cycle of droning bass notes, the slow decay of a warm drone into silence or the juxtaposition of a continuous melody with a backdrop of far-away field recordings. Derelict even disrupts the harmonious surface with discreet dissonances, which are, however, softened by embedding them into gripping thematic movement. As if incorporating the essence of pastoral beauty, The Echo Garden opens up to all senses, revealing its dazzling complex of sweet sounds, refined tastes, impressionist images and sensual perfumes in small doses of complementary quality. If his intention was truly to “just leave the good stuff”, the album has succeeded admirably.
From my balcony, I can see into the garden of an elderly couple. Each day, they will tend to their plants, water the flowers and crawl on their knees to tear out the weeds between the stones that form a path leading from the garage to the patio on the other end of the green. After the work is done, they will sit down on the patio’s bench, enjoy the pleasures of relaxation after a day of laboring in the summer sun and look at the outcome of their sweat. The Echo Garden seems to try and capture this moment of bliss, forged by sensations of purpose and devotion. Like them, Jimmy Behan has quietly cultivated the garden of his melancholia for the past years and distilled its fruit into an album which grows on listeners quietly yet insistently. The music is the movie here. Listening with your inner eyes will bring out the full cinematic qualities of this tender trip.”