Although their current status is sort of unkown, For Against released their latest album (Coalesced) last year and have soldiered on for nearly 20 years now. In that time, they've released a total of 6 full-length albums and have slowly built a small but devoted fanbase. This has all happened despite the fact that they rarely played live shows during the last one-third of their lifespan and have rarely played shows outside their hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska.
Part of their revived popularity can no doubt be attributed to the fanatical raves written by Jack Rabid in The Big Takeover, but it also probably comes down to the fact that you pretty much always know what you're getting when you pick up one of the releases by the group. Although they did brighten up their overall output over the years and slightly evolve in sound, there's a subtle progression in their releases that feels natural and comfortable.
Echelons is the first effort from the group and when it originally came out in 1987, it was released as LP only. The package design (an elaborate chipboard cover that included real stalks of wheat) was nominated for a Grammy award and the group generated some buzz. Musically, the album recalls early Factory Records with chiming guitars that mix with vibrant basslines and economical percussion while the vocals of Jeffrey Runnings sound somewhat akin to early Michael Stipe. As someone who followed their other releases, I have to say that Echelons is actually one of the more solid outings from the group. Although there are obvious references to similar bands of the era, the group tries a lot of different things with their sound and most of them work quite well.
"Shine" opens the disc with a burst of propulsive energy as high-hats skitter over rubbery basslines and guitar atmospherics blend with the soaring vocals of Runnings. "Get On With It" takes some of the same elements and reworks them into something even more hook-laden while the album-titled "Echelons" starts things out dark, pushing the vocals to the background behind keyboards and a sparse rhythm section before building into a primal track that recalls Joy Division. While the group may wear their influences on their sleeves, it's still a pretty remarkable little album considering it was released 17 years ago and from the dead-center of the country. In other words, it's a kind of an anomaly, but this remastered, repackaged disc is a little gem that fans of the aforementioned will no doubt love.