Ready for Takeoff
Ministry of Love is a big, ambitious debut for the L.A.-based duo IO Echo. After releasing a self-titled EP in 2012 to a fair amount of acclaim, Ioanna Gika and Leopold Ross (who’s also played bass for The Big Pink) have released an album that combines a diverse array of influences into a cosmic, cool sound that’s at once futuristic and nostalgic.
An Eastern influence is apparent on the album’s grandiloquent opening track “Shanghai Girls,” which begins with a wave of guitars crashing into a wavery, light melody, complimented by Gika’s distinctive Japanese koto harp and airy vocals. It’s ’80s New Wave meets industrial meets sweeping, cinematic gesture, in a song that pays its debt to vintage goths Siouxsie and the Banshees. There’s certainly an ’80s vibe to Ministry of Love—particularly on the title track, where muted, spacey synths and distorted guitars sound as if they’re streaming through a veil, and you can just imagine Gika and Ross playing along to some Bowie-esque imagery with space age effects. The slow, atmospheric “Stalemate” conjures visions of moons and planets drifting inexorably through the vast darkness of space, in an anguished lament that would do Robert Smith proud.
But what Ministry of Love almost disguises, is the fact that it’s not so dark as it seems. “Ministry of Love,” is, well, a love song. “The sound of your heartbeat / is the sound I believe,” Gika sings in the chorus. It’s a poppy love song, whatever somber effects IO Echo might throw at it. “Ecstasy Ghost” and “Forget Me Not” indulge in hooky choruses, and “When the Lilies Die” has, despite its macabre title, a thoroughly catchy whistled melody, a jouncy upbeat tempo, and even some exuberant hand-clapping in the chorus. Likewise, “Tiananmen Square” takes a possibly morbid subject and transforms it into a light-hearted, melodic pop song with a driving beat and tripping soprano vocals.
While Ministry of Love is by no means perfect (“Draglove” is little more than a jumble of noise, and “Outsiders” is unremarkable), it’s a striking debut, and IO Echo is definitely a band to keep in your radar.