A record of fragility and depth, weight and wonder, Glass Echoes’ debut album ‘Breathe’ is a stunning cinematic indie folk soundtrack to self-awareness and awakening, reflection and reckoning.
for fans of Novo Amor, Hailaker, Bear’s Den, Bon Iver
Stream: ‘Live at the Library’ – Glass Echoes
Breath is beautiful.
What a wondrous thing it is that the main activity that sustains us – that which gives us life on a daily, minute-by-minute, second-by-second basis – is an unconscious activity we rarely, if ever, have to think about for too long? Breath is powerful: Unseen but ever-present, it’s the invisible constant in all our lives, stealthily coming and going as we intake fresh oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. If we’re lucky, breathing just happens. We don’t have to worry about, focus on it, count the inhales… It’s automatic.
If we’re lucky.
Between George Floyd’s gut-wrenching final words and the ravages of the COVID-19 global pandemic, these past few years have reminded us to cherish our breaths, demanding that we start paying attention: To understand life as something that is given to us and can be taken away in an instant, whether by force or by pathogen, with no reason and little warning. We’ve been learning to not take our breaths for granted, and at its core, that is the inspiration behind and message of Glass Echoes’ debut album. A record of fragility and depth, weight and wonder, Breathe is a stunning cinematic indie folk soundtrack to self-awareness and awakening, reflection and reckoning: A record that takes no breaths for granted, looking at life through a refreshing lens of appreciation and possibility.
Call my bluff, if I say this hour ain’t perfect though
The bedlam grow
Voices such, left to linger the footing close
Closer to when I was young
To when I was young
Riveting blend of colors, the north to sing
The warmth we cling
Candid trace, moving frequency of the past
We’re family, we’re breathing as one
And never seen though the chaos is crippling
A rippling reckoning
Every corner show up to sing
We’re family, we’re breathing as one
We’re family, we’re breathing as one
– “Breathe,” Glass Echoes
Released January 21, 2022 via Anthem Falls Music, Breathe is the kind of album that gives off a kind of magic spark.
Radiating with a special majesty and ethereal gravity that’s sure to keep listeners coming back, Glass Echoes’ debut album is an exceptional addition to any alternative and indie folk lovers’ catalog. Experimental in nature and atmospheric by design, the album is as much a twelve-track collection as it is a singular cathartic 50-minute journey. It’s an all-encompassing and enviable introduction to Glass Echoes, the Minneapolis-based duo of Chris Bartels and Ben Noble – two longtime friends, each with his own established musical projects.
“We are both working artists and producers with a considerable number of monikers between the two of us,” Glass Echoes explain. “Chris’ main projects are Elskavon, Bora York, and Blurstem, and Ben’s are under his own name Ben Noble as well as Lake Union. In addition to leading analogous careers, we have kids around the same age and live strikingly similar lives as home-studio-dads.”
Bartels and Noble began working together steadily a few years ago, slowly building up a bank of unused sketches. “The catalyst for what would become Breathe, and ultimately Glass Echoes itself, was the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic,” they share. “The excitement of a new, no-limits project was a sanctuary during the early days of uncertainty as we were figuring out what the world was changing into. Breathe was made almost entirely remotely, with us taking ideas and sending ideas back and forth throughout the writing, tracking, and mixing process.”
“The most significant difference for both of us (between this and our respective other projects) is the open-handed nature of Glass Echoes,” the pair continue. “Since we have other projects that are more established, we are both very much enthralled by the idea of Glass Echoes becoming whatever it becomes – it began with no rules, an escape from typical deadlines and guideposts, and has continued in this vein throughout the creation of Breathe. The experimental nature of it is also a shift from other projects; it has a much bigger “box” which makes it fun and eclectic. Glass Echoes has many parallels to our other projects, most notably Ben’s self-titled records and Chris’s Elskavon project. Ben’s specialty ranges from indie dream folk to moody rock, in a vein comparable to Radiohead, while Chris is heavily involved in the ambient and modern classical music world.”
Stylistically, ‘Breathe’ covers most of the spectrum of what we enjoy creating, from delicate folk to angsty dark ambient to epic anthemic. It sets us up to be able to go anywhere with subsequent releases and makes it so that we can consider just about anything we make a potential Glass Echoes song.
Diving deeper into the record, it’s easy to understand how Breathe is a true labor of love.
“Our initial vision, ironically, was to have a project between us that would be nice for music licensing placements and making money,” Ben Noble says. “From about day two, we realized that would clearly not be the outcome of this record, but that’s alright! Breathe became much more of a creatively-fulfilling and unique record that we are both thrilled with – we’re not sure we would have ended up with it if we decided to sit down with the initial intention of making a record like this.”
The album’s title says it all: “As the lyrical themes began to develop, we were immersed in a global pandemic, whose main ailment is making it difficult to breathe,” Noble recalls. “In addition, we both live only a few miles from where George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis in May 2020, uttering the words “I can’t breathe”. These two events created a new reality for our world and especially our city – Breathe is largely a reflection on how we, as two white men who have been given a lot, need to ponder and consider ways in which we need to be involved.”
To echo that in a way – on the title track, we sing the lyric, ‘We’re family, we’re breathing as one,'” Chris Bartels adds. “There’s no hidden meaning in that, really – we’re singing for a hope of unity across all people, all races, all backgrounds – that, as humanity, in a way, we’re all one family.”
Such an aspirational scope may sound lofty, but musically it translates naturally into tender, comforting music with a free flow: Songs that breathe with their own electrifying energy, soft yet soaring, dramatic and subtle all in the same breath.
Highlights abound throughout an album full of passion and warmth: In fact, Glass Echoes’ members cite the record’s bookends as home to some of their favorite lyrics. “For me, it’s the opening track / title track ‘Breathe,'” Bartells says. “This one was never meant to be a vocal song. The fact that the vocal part and lyrics came to me quickly and out of left field, and that we felt they fit so well, was a leading factor in us picking this track to open the album. Conceptually, the lyrics very much encapsulate the big picture theme of the album, which Ben articulates in explaining the album title.” Bright, buoyant, and glitchy, “Breathe” instantly sets an enthralling scene for the record to come.
Meanwhile, Noble brings up the album’s beautiful and equally compelling closer. “My favorite lyrics are on the song ‘Every Beat Is a Rhythm We Need,’ which focuses on the beauty of humanity and how every soul is precious,” he says. “Beginning gently, “Be it may, I may not be the loudest of voices / I look for the corners, I am the worry’s refrain,” wondering how to be a voice of progress while being timid.”
In-between these two tracks is a captivating world of evocative sounds and palpable emotion: “Down From the Mountain” and “Inner Fiction” are two slow and sweetly intimate outpourings of feeling brimming with radiant colors and cool contours. “See It Through” is a feverish, explosive upheaval, “Anorak” is a heartfelt, kaleidoscopic embrace, and “Elepkins” is a zealous experimental instrumental track that showcases the duo’s creativity. Both members cite “Down From the Mountain” as a personal favorite.
Bartels explains, “‘Anorak’ is maybe close for me too, because I really stretched myself to new levels of weird with the vocal processing on there – messing with tape speed and whatnot – but Down From The Mountain will always be the most memorable inception moment with this project – both writing and experimenting in-studio with Ben, and also hearing his vocals for the first time, and just sitting down in the Minneapolis skyway, putting it on repeat for awhile and getting really excited thinking about where the album could go creatively.”
All told, Breathe is utterly magnificent: An inspiring work of art perfect for starting the year off on the right foot.
For Glass Echoes, it’s just the start: With no roadmap and a world of options ahead of them, Bartels and Noble could take their dynamic duo anywhere from here.
“Our hope is that listeners will use Breathe as an escape for 50 minutes,” Noble shares. “It is an immersive experience, not necessarily the best for background music, but hopefully one that will be cause for reflection and repose. After creating and putting it out, we certainly feel that it is a time capsule of the events of 2020 and our experience of them. It is a different record than ones that we have made in the past, much as the world has become increasingly different.”
Bartels shares a similar outlook. “Writing genuinely unique music is a tough ask these days – sometimes as a creator it feels there’s nothing left that could be truly unique. I’m more optimistic than that, and believe every creator can bring something unique to the table, but sometimes that battle is there, at least in my mind. All that being said, I know personally, I’d say this might by my own most unique album to date. I’ll of course let listeners with an outside perspective decide for themselves if Breathe is genuinely unique in their minds, but regardless, I hope that creative freedom and exploration comes across in the emotion and journey of the album listening experience. All I know is it was really fun to get Dropbox and WeTransfer links from Ben that entire year we were remotely writing this together – pulling those stems into the sessions and waiting to hear what he’d come up with never got old.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Glass Echoes’ Breathe with Atwood Magazine as the pair go track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their debut album!
Stream: ‘Breathe’ – Glass Echoes
:: Inside Breathe ::
Chris: This song was never initially meant to be a vocal song – we had written the foundation of it, and we thought it’d be a short, instrumental transition track. One day I was taking a long walk waiting for my car to be ready after a repair, listening to the rough mix, and the vocal melody came to me. I ended up sitting down and writing all the verse vocals right there. It came so naturally and quickly, we re-adapted the song, and felt the energy from that would make it a perfect start to the album – showcasing several different styles that you’ll hear the rest of the way.
Down from the Mountain
Ben: Down From The Mountain started as an improvisational studio get-together, before Glass Echoes was even imagined. Chris had just bought an old 60’s chord organ, dusty and out-of-tune on a whim, who told him he got it from his “weird uncle”. Most of the track was recorded on a small portable recorder – creative spontaneity took precedence over precise sonic quality. Ben took the recording, wrote the spacious, ethereal vocal parts and sent a rough mix back to Chris, who first listened while walking through the Minneapolis skyways one afternoon. This track marked the beginning of Glass Echoes.
See It Through
Ben: See It Through is anequal parts bold, anthemic, yet delicate, emotional gut-punch, wrestling with the idea of trying to change major systemic issues in society. People with more have always had power over those with less. Featuring the drum talent of frequent collaborator Reese Kling, the tension builds over the course of the first two minutes, culminating in a massive blast of sound, repeating the words “start it over”. It is as much a reimagining of society as it is of conventional drum sounds, with cracking, over-the-top hits coming out of nowhere throughout.
Past the Sundown
Ben: Past The Sundown started with some dusty cassette tape loops, spliced up piano bits, and the intimate chorus, slowly being overtaken by electronic elements. From there, we decided to “take it to the moon” on the bridge, coming up with big, epic, synthy, moments, continually looping the title phrase “past the sundown”. The contrast and stylistic journey is decidedly a summation of the project as a whole.
Chris: Anorak turned into my weird, creative baby of the album. No other way to put it. With the lyrics and vocals in particular, I would improvise and record some lines, and then just have at it with processing, trying all sorts of things – printing onto my 1968 1/4” tape machine, then playing them back at half speed, or vice versa, reversing, pitching up and down, whatever came to mind. And when I was doing this, I was doing it pretty quickly, so I wasn’t thinking too much about my decisions – essentially just throwing paint at the wall. Besides the production aspects, the song is about family pushing through adversity, or loss, or pain, together.
Wound and Unwound
Ben: Wound and Unwound is an instrumental departure from an already experimental arc of the record. Having grown up playing jazz saxophone, I incorporated some samples, saxophone layers, and string parts into a song that sounds akin to an orchestra warming up.
Got It All Wrong
Chris: Got It All Wrong actually originated several years ago for my synth pop band Bora York. I had the foundation of it written with that project in mind, but it never quite felt right there. I brought out, dusted it off, and together Ben and I messed around with developing the choral-esque vocal intro together, eventually getting it to a point where it really felt good as a Glass Echoes song. It’s pretty fun when you find that an idea that was intended to be for something completely different ends up working on an album. It just needed to find its home.
Between the Stones
Ben: Between The Stones began as a charmingly crunchy, lo-fi Fender Rhodes improvisation. Chris sent it to me and I wrote vocals – a dry, clean topline contrasted with heavily-processed background vocal parts and textures. An unlikely lullaby, it is a song about yearning for a quiet place to rest.
Ben: Breaking is a dark ambient trance – the goal was to make a soundscape that was menacing, yet strangely calming, similar to how people use white noise to calm anxiety at times. A smattering of synth and electric guitar layers embody the words “I am the raging sea”. The lyrics highlight inner turmoil and the fight to break free from our demons.
Ben: Elepkins is a made-up word, which fits the odd, difficult-to-define meandering it embarks on. The result of studio experimentation, it is the utmost opportunity for a couple of electronic music nerds to sync up a few synthesizers and drum machines and twist knobs with no real agenda. The recorded version is just under two minutes, but this song could go on forever.
Chris: There’s a few different song form sections to this one, but for the most part, it’s dodging a set song form (verse-chorus-bridge, for example) and we wanted it to almost act as a gradual, steady emotional plateau. Usually when writing songs, I tend to think of a subject or a concept and then write lyrics to that. In this case, I tried something different – hitting play and singing whatever syllables came to mind out of the blue. From that, I’d go back and adjust the sounds into words. So there’s a very apparent randomness, or abstract, quality to the song, but at a certain point I started adapting the rest of the lyrics to a certain mood, or emotion. In this case, there’s a sense of nostalgia for youth, a coming-of-age feel to it.
Every Beat Is A Rhythm We Need
Ben: Every Beat Is A Rhythm We Need is the most introspective single off of Breathe. Putting a newly acquired nylon string guitar to use, Chris layered together a handful of simple rhythmic layers, free from a tempo grid, and sent them off to me, and I came up with the vocals and the lyrical concept. Lyrically, the song is an ode, a love letter, to all of humanity, to the idea that all people of all cultures and classes and ethnicities and walks of life, are first and foremost, human. Valuable. Beautiful.
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📸 © 2022
:: Stream Glass Echoes ::