When a band flaunts their influences as nakedly as Io Echo does, it’s hard not to read their debut as a kind of sonic autobiography. Every musician grew up listening to what would eventually become the foundation of their own writing, and the best artists can hope for in their early years is to move past mimicking their idols to building something new from what they’ve learned. On Ministry of Love, we’re led to new–or at least engagingly composite–sounds, but not until we’re first invited to acknowledge the seeds from which they grew.
And those seeds should be obvious to anyone who lived through or wished that they lived through the ’80s. Opener “Shanghai Girls” crashes into life with all the scope and grandeur of Disintegration‘s “Plainsong,” while Ministry‘s title track runs on a barely modified version of the bassline from “Fascination Street.” But unlike the Cure, Io Echo don’t settle solely for weeping onto their Converse. Angst and upset pervade songs like “Stalemate” and “Forget Me Not,” but when they’re not casting the kind of psychic unease that Robert Smith first minted, this L.A. duo feels free to sing the praises of new beginnings and new love.
The strategy of extracting joy from gloom calls to mind later Cocteau Twins, to whom Io Echo owe equal parts of their combined soul. The reverb, the airy vocals, the backwashed guitar–none of these things especially try to hide their tracks through a decade everyone seems to be more than a little nostalgic for lately. But the album delivers on enough dynamics that listeners can at least trace a trajectory from the ’80s through the ’90s into something we might call the here and now. Tracks like the stomping “Tiananmen Square” punctuate the retrospective with addictive melodies and glassy synths that sound like they were cooked up in a back-alley meth lab. “Draglove,” meanwhile, strings Siouxsie Sioux-vox over a throbbing drum n’ bass beat while Gameboys bleep in the background.
It’s these odd melanges that clench together into perfect hooks that make Ministry of Love as promising as it is. Io Echo may source generous helpings of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but they’re as willing to experiment as they are to reiterate. And if we read their debut’s more derivative moments as a treasure map to a shiny new trove, we might just set ourselves up to discover something special yet to come.