One of the best albums (I haven't got a single "best Happy album", it changes all the time), lots of great lyrics. And some very beautiful songs, too. (email@example.com)
Favourite songs: "Ecto", "Poetic Justice", "When the rain came down". That's fewer songs than I expected to list, but honestly these are the ones that I go back to and listen to all the time. I don't know why most people list this album as their favourite. Maybe it's because it starts showing the cohesion of an album that becomes more evident in Warpaint. It certainly is a turning point in Happy's career, and most importantly it contains my favourite Happy Rhodes song ever, "Poetic Justice". (firstname.lastname@example.org)
My favorite song on this album is "Project 499." ("If Love Is A Game I Win" probably deserves an honorable mention.) I've heard it said that Happy's transition from a mainly acoustic artist to a mainly electronic one first emerges with clarity in this album. I myself am less certain of that, but it remains a step in the evolution of her music. And as always, the particular song(s) I like best also figure in the equation.
A number of our friends have written of how particular songs of Happy's relate especially closely to their own experiences. "Project 499" occupies that niche for me, probably one of the two main reasons why I like it so much (the way it sounds musically being the other)—it is, indeed, my favorite among all the songs from the 1st4, and possibly all Happy's albums period. In the university where I was educated, 499 was then the standard course designation for dissertation research hours; that, and the actual content of the lyrics, cause it to come across to me as a metaphor for my lengthy, and at times dolorous, career in graduate school. (email@example.com)
Ecto marks a turning point in her subject matter from darkness toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Rhodes explores more diverse subject matter, but some demons remain to be exorcised. Rhodes explores more synthesized sounds, although her acoustic guitar is still very much in evidence, and her voice is as strong and versatile as ever, mimicking Annie Lennox and Kate Bush in the span of one phrase with ease. A departure from the almost folky flavor of some moments on her first two albums, Rhodes I and II, and a progression from Rearmament, Ecto is considered by some to be Rhodes' strongest album to date, and I find it hard at times to disagree.
Ecto isn't my favorite of Happy's albums...but in my opinion it's got some great moments on it.
"Poetic Justice" is one of my top 5 all-time favorite Happy songs. It was an absolute powerhouse when performed live, back in the day...I loved it before then (probably because at the time I was in college and it was quite a propos :), but seeing it live really pushed it over the top for me.
Both "Look for the Child" and "When the Rain Came Down" are more contemporaneous with (Warpaint), which is probably why they don't quite fit with Ecto. :)
I remember the day Ecto tape arrived wrapped in its fuzzy blue felt wrapping, listening to this never-ever-before-played-for-anybody song called "When The Rain Came Down" for the first time...sigh. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This is THE Happy album, of course. It's a cornucopia of musical excellence in every regard. There are some great atmospheric pieces, such as "I'm Going Back" and "To Be E. Mortal" (which is bloody fantastic).
There are some...oh, forget it. I can't hope to categorize an album of individual shards of genius like this one. There isn't a single song on this album that's less than excellent. I'll just name some favorites: "Would That I Could" (of course), "Look For The Child", "Don't Want To Hear It", and "If So". But who needs to pick favorites? Sigh. :) (email@example.com)
My first Happy tape, I bought it at a library sale for 25 cents (You just never know...). Of course I was amazed, she is so honest without being in your face about it. This one seems more melodic than Rearmament and again has lots of heavy electronic synthesizer. There are also some beautiful acoustic songs. She also does some incredible things with overdubbing vocals. (ItsyBitsyS@aol.com)
A desert island disc for me. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
She wrote most of the songs for the album Ecto when she was 22, in a 2-week period. Every song on that thing is jaw-droppingly wonderful, but some are true classics, like "Would That I Could" and "If So" and "Ode" and "Don't Want To Hear It" and "To Be E. Mortal" (and of course, for me, "Off From Out From Under Me").
The song that owns a special place in my heart because it was the one to smack me upside the head and tell me I was going to be a Happy fan for life is one from the album Ecto, called "Off From Out From Under Me." (email@example.com)
Ecto is appropriately the namesake of this mailing group, because here Happy's talents are fully employed.
I had the pleasure of getting my doses of H.R. gradually, in the time frame of her actual releases. My appetite fully restored as each tape and then CD hit my hifi, I was able to metabolize these works fully. Within a listen or two I knew that Ecto was perfecto.
It is the perfect irony that the one track that fails for me is the namesake track itself. I infer from a conversation I initiated with Happy herself that the spoken song works perfectly for her, but from out here in fan land, the absence of melody and the loss of the voices from heaven (and hell) make it far less of a musical experience than all the other pieces in the collection, much as the cover art falls short to my eyes. Those happen to be the only criticisms I can muster for an album otherwise slated to outshine all comers in the pantheon of song save the remainder of this woman's oeuvre. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Just a few minutes ago, I unwrapped the cellophane from my new copy of Ecto and am sending it through its maiden voyage. And, I'm ecstatic to say, I'm already in love with this CD. So far my favorite is "Project 499". I just love the Simon & Garfunkel fingerpicking. It reminds me a lot so far of my favorites—Rhodes I and II and Rearmament. (APryde@worldnet.att.net)
With fear and trepidation, I have to say that I don't really care for Ecto. Try as I might to penetrate this recording, I just can't find much below its dark surface, and in fact the more I listen to it, the more off-putting it has become, until now I'd say it's my least-favorite Happy CD.
I'd split the songs on Ecto into three basic categories: those that are obvious throwbacks to the sound of Rhodes I and II and Rearmament, those that are a little darker and more experimental than what has come before, and finally two bonus tracks that blow away just about everything else that has come before.
I don't think it's a coincidence that after a monster-free album and album cover (Rearmament), that Ecto features a monster on the cover and opens with a song called "I'm Going Back." It's the first of a few songs on this album that shows Happy stretching herself in new musical and producing (if not lyrical) directions, and while I see the experimentation as a necessary step toward her future successes, this track fails for me. Musically, it's a skeleton, which helps to make Happy's lyrics very stark, but at the same time it doesn't entice my ears.
"If Love is a Game, I Win" shows Happy continuing in the lyrical self-confidence she discovered on Rearmament, as well as that album's expanded musical structure. Musically, however, it doesn't resonate. In fact, "Would That I Could," one of the album's most Rhodes-esque tracks and therefore less sophisticated, stands out as better. Happy's typical guitar plucking is supported by a smooth bass line and decorated with some nice harmonies, and her lyrical borrowing from Shakespeare also helps make this song stand out.
Unfortunately, "Off From Out From Under Me" doesn't keep up the musical momentum. I love the lyrics; Happy speaks of a mad man who believes in monsters that haunt him. At first she doesn't believe him, but slowly she does, and in believing him, he passes those monsters onto her and is freed, leaving her to his former plight. It would make an excellent sci-fi short story, but the music here doesn't compliment the lyrics well. It isn't until the multi-vocal ending that I become interested in the music.
"Project 499" matches the melodic beauty of some of the best tracks from Rhodes II, as a simple acoustic guitar and vocals showcase perfectly Happy's writing and performing skills. As good as it is, it is unnecessarily short, lessening its impact as one of the album's best tracks. The solid drums of Rearmament finally show up in "I Won't Break Down" (although a slight drum ticking can be heard on "If Love is a Game, I Win"). This song, in arrangement and lyrical approach, sounds like it was definitely lifted from the Rearmament sessions. Happy has armed herself again and her confidence shows through in her growling vocals.
The album's strong streak continues with "If So," a song that has been a favorite of mine ever since I first heard it on Rhodesongs. The lyrics perfectly convey a broken heart, and even though Happy insists in the chorus that, "I'll never think of you, and I'll never grieve," it appears that she is doing both in the verses. It's an interesting and honest contradiction of feeling. Even the occasional fret buzz adds to the vulnerability of the song.
So the album seems to be (finally) moving along nicely when the title song kicks in. I'd lump "Ecto" together with "I'm Going Back" as a dark musical experiment that doesn't work. Spoken-word pieces have their place, and once again lyrically Happy doesn't fail to provoke interest, but as a whole this song grates on me. It's probably the first song (chronologically) of Happy's that I have a dislike for. The bass line sounds lifted from elsewhere, and where there is singing, the music not creative enough to salvage the song.
I like the slightly new direction Happy takes with "I Cannot Go On" (a title I find ironic after "I Won't Break Down"). What differentiates this track from any Rearmament track is the addition of the acoustic guitar counter-melody in the background. It adds a bit of depth to the song, even if in the closing fade-out the counter melody reveals itself to be rather similar to "Unchained Melody." "Ode" is quite pretty and would've made a pleasant ending to the album; its tone is similar to a lullaby, quite like Rhodes II's "The Revelation."
Like "If Love is a Game, I Win," both "I Don't Want to Hear It" and "Poetic Justice" are fine, but nothing noteworthy or overly interesting, although once again Happy saves "Poetic Justice" from mediocrity with her creative and biting lyrics (and I wish I'd had this song on hand while taking college-level creative writing and sitting through countless cliched "poems"). As a closer, "To Be E. Mortal" is quite lacking. It treads into the experimental territory of the title track and "I'm Going Back," but it's short on lyrical content or musical innovation while majorly overstaying its welcome at 8+ minutes.
"Be Careful What You Say" threatened to overshadow all of Rearmament, but ultimately that album was strong enough to hold its own against this newer, more heavily-produced bonus track. Not so on Ecto. Both bonus tracks ("Look for the Child" and "When the Rain Came Down") could hold their own against the best tracks on (Warpaint), and thus they are a glowing example of the excellence Happy is capable of. "Look for the Child" is haunting and beautiful, another wonderful instance of Happy pulling together numerous musical bits and pieces into a cohesive whole. Almost as good is "When the Rain Came Down," which boasts a hook that (like "Look for the Child") may inadvertently magnify how musically lacking the rest of Ecto is.
I know I'm sounding way harsh, but by Happy's musical standards, and even though Ecto is better than 80% of all music out there, this album is a disappointment to me. She had already proved she was a better songwriter with her previous releases, and would go on to prove she was a better experimental producer and arranger with her future releases. Even vocally, Happy doesn't shine quite as brightly here as before or since. It's a dark, brooding, rather unrewarding musical experience highlighted by a few diamonds in the rough.
Grade: C+. Best cuts: 1. "If So"; 2. "Look for the Child"; 3. "Ode"; 4. "When the Rain Came Down"; 5. "Project 499". Least favourite cut: "Ecto".
While at first I ranked Rhodes I and II at the bottom of my list, I'd say Ecto now holds that spot. While I adore "If So" and "Ode," if you were to take away those and the bonus tracks, I'd be hard-pressed to find much interesting (to me) on this album. I'd rank it as her darkest, most impenetrable album. (Patrick)
Lest anyone be disappointed, I think Patrick is utterly insane. There. I said it. Ecto ROOLZ!
"I got better..."
Ecto is very much one of my favorite Happy albums, but the problem is that Patrick's opinions are very clearly elucidated, and I'd be silly to try to launch some grand attack on one's sense of aesthetic, something so deeply personal that there aren't two matching ones on this mailing list (though I suspect some of us are more alike than different).
I'd probably rank Ecto above everything after it with the exception of Many Worlds Are Born Tonight. And if *that's* not blasphemy, in these (Warpaint)-lovin' parts o' town, I dunno what is.
Maybe it's because my first exposure to Happy was basically side two of the album (yes, it used to have sides. phbtttt.)
And don't get me wrong; I couldn't imagine not having the privilege of hearing "Words Weren't Made for Cowards" or the vampire diptych, or "Cohabitants," or "Tivoli", or "Down, Down, " or...the list is almost endless.
But I think I'll always have a thing for the 1st4, and I adore all of them.
Can't say anything about "Ecto"—I don't really see it as spoken word, as there so much rhythm to her voice it's not just talking over the music, though it's also not really sung either. And I happen to love the bass line. ;-)
Okay, not to get ugly here, but am I the only one who thinks that "Poetic Justice" sounds a bit hypocritical? Is Happy as precise as she once was? I can't help but see vagueness as one of her devices. And if you disagree, let's *please* have an exposition of "If Wishes Were Horses, How Beggars Would Ride." "But you can't bring me comfort without filling up my eyes." Not nearly as straightforward as, say, "Because I learn, once is enough", is it? Mind, I'm not complaining; I like the increased complexity of the lyrics...but there was something special about that young woman pouring her heart out in that straightforward way...
(I also took poetry workshops in college and I rarely find that Happy's lyrics hold up as poetry...not nearly so bad as the abysmal experience of trying to read Sinead's "Troy" without listening to her scream and moan to the string section...a sublime piece of songwriting, but, well, pretty crappy poetry.)
"Perfect Irony" was mindblowing live.
Never mind that the two bonus tracks, "Look for the Child" and "When the Rain Came Down", stylistically don't fit with the rest of the album (and yes, I love both songs), they *completely* ruin the experience of "To Be E. Mortal."
"To Be E. Mortal" was always one of my favorite Happy songs, and it's because it's so long and so repetitive...it's trance-inducing, utterly perfect for listening in the dark. Sublime vocals over hypnotic synthesizer and fabulous electric guitar. This is truly a song that takes me away.
I still get thrown hearing the bonus tracks on Happy's first four albums. But the truth is, the only album on which I really feel it's a problem is Ecto. "To Be E. Mortal" is just so utterly brilliant (I never would have guessed that 8 minutes of so much repetition could be as utterly spellbinding as *those* 8 are!), and such the perfect closer to that album (musically, thematically, emotionally), that to then have the upbeat "Look for the Child" and "When the Rain Came Down" pop in and destroy my reverie can be just a bit too much. Which is unfortunate, because "When the Rain Came Down" is just spellbinding, and I don't hear it often enough.
Do give Ecto a nice, long chance. And if necessary, shut off your CD after "To Be E. Mortal." As I said, it's not that "Look For the Child" is bad (indeed, it's wonderful), it's just that for me, it ruins the mood of the album. "Don't Want to Hear It" was the first Happy song I transcribed (8/90!) and I remember being amazed once I started to figure out what the hell she was talking about. "Project 499" is another of my all time favorite Happy songs. (email@example.com)
Listening to Ecto (and other Happy), I find that although I wasn't so wild about Ecto when I first got it, now it is one of my favorites. It seems to have just a smattering of all the different facets of Happy's personality. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When I got Ecto just over a month ago, I was almost disappointed that instead of continuing in this style, she had opted for a more down-tempo approach, which although still excellent, did not have (excepting the brilliant bonus tracks) all the fantastic vocals and powerful percussion I loved on Rearmament. (email@example.com)
I was listening to Ecto today at work and decided the bass playing on several cuts is very good. Ecto had fallen behind my nightstand, so I haven't heard it more than once since I bought it a couple of months ago. I especially like the bass on "Would That I Could". The bass sounds dry and plectrum-picked and the leaps between the notes get wide at times. There seems to be some Yes influence going on there. (firstname.lastname@example.org)