Fitting and exploring the strange
Ekko’s 2020 EP, Haunting Me, debuted with a dark, mysterious electronic sound with influences from video game soundtracks, darkwave, coldwave and new wave. There is a serious mystery to both Ekko’s former EP and his latest LP Mystique, as he states that it is representative of the history of Warsaw, Poland. Ekko takes on all aspects of his project, including the production, mixing, writing and performing of both releases. Where Haunting Me feels like an exploration into a sound, Mystique seems to draw further on it, citing a specific influence and feeling. The direction of Mystique has clarity within the heavy cold synth feeling with new wave exploration. The inspiration of loved bands like Joy Division, The Cure or Depeche Mode can’t help but be noted. That being said, there is plenty new within this eight-track album to spark intrigue. This is no copy clone to its influences, rather they sit in the audience and applaud. Much like Ekko’s name implies, Mystique both uses ideas and sounds from the past while making it something new.
Mystique starts with a very strong introduction and the best songs of the entire project. “Exotic” forms an eerie dark synth with simplistic drums, layered and caked on with sci-fi effects, eventually drifting into the lyrics that fit right at home in any ’80s band. Synths seems to be at the heart of all songs of the project, and the low-hitting synths in this track in particular is specifically entrancing. The way all electronic sounds mold a full atmospheric sinister tone makes “Exotic” food for the ears.
“Głęboki” is another stand-out. This track opens with drums straight out of a Eurhythmics song, then dives into a graveyard party. The ghostly whistles and vocals especially fit a Halloween aesthetic but never feel too outplayed or corny. Głęboki translates from Polish to mean deep, thus reflecting the deep sounds within the track. The vocals and backdrop for them hit lower than other tracks. This stylistic choice creates a harsher tone moving out of the ’80s pop/dance elements and into a darker atmosphere.
“Vamps” continues this tone with similar quality. This track incorporates both low and high synths, and even includes a small sample. The effects of groaning, wispy whistles and high screeches all form around the ominous atmosphere.
Where the first three tracks separate themselves from the others, “Channel” seems to mold a little too much with the others. Its similar and conventional structure and simplistic drumbeat feel as though it stripped the complexity that the other tracks provided. “Channel” still fits within the ideas and tone of other sounds, it just isn’t as memorable— possibly due to the removal of vocals.
“Reanimate” and “The Concept” reintroduce vocals and provide slower lingering pacing. “The Concept” doesn’t abuse its run time, holding listeners to its four minutes with an inclusion of a great bassline and catchy organ-sounding synths. The manipulation of the synth within these two tracks allows for the simplicity to work, otherwise, it might be too bare-boned. Enough layering of sounds helps boost the overall structure and tone within these songs.
The track “Your Shadow” includes more of a dance element, but never plays too far out of the tones of previous songs. By opening with synths that could easily be found in any Daft Punk song, and including voice manipulation, there is a subtle enough shift to feel unique.
Where other tracks strayed away from a repetitive singular note, “Ekko Reflektor” seems to stay on a continuous course for too long. As a closure to the album, it has no reason to hold a five-minute run time, nor does it fulfill any shift or addition to the established sound. “Ekko Reflektor” is rather a dull, note, closing to an otherwise unique LP. The low electronic horns and echoes can’t mix within the otherwise hard-hitting low synth, feeling unmatched and too contrasted to be cohesive.
Mystique may be classified as one-note, described to have a singular core sound held together with its electronic synths and vocals, however, that tone is an intriguing one within its eight tracks intrigue. Mystique plays well into the genre and atmosphere it creates: always dark, cold and spooky, but fleshed out and layered enough to portray these concepts.