Crest: Ecco2k and Bladee’s alternative exploration of spiritualism

Crest: Ecco2k and Bladees alternative exploration of spiritualism

When I tell people they should listen to Drain Gang, I always feel a little bit stupid. It’s certainly not out of lack of faith in their work: but once I’m past “have you heard of Drain Gang?,” I end up stuck looking for the words to accurately describe them.

The Swedish art collective is, first and foremost, a musical group consisting of musicians Bladee, Ecco2k, and Thaiboy Digital and producers Whitearmor and Yung Sherman, they are also known for their frequent collaborations with Swedish rapper Yung Lean.

In their most recent project, Ecco2k and Bladee joined with producer Whitearmor in order to create the 9-track EP Crest. At just over 30 minutes, the EP is like a living creature, mutating between and within tracks. Every second is different, with instrumental drops and shifts inspiring a constant feeling of novelty. At the same time, though, it’s incredibly cohesive, not just sonically, but lyrically and thematically, rife with clever callbacks to earlier Drain Gang works. 

Religious themes have been present in every member of Drain Gang’s Work, both overtly and implicitly. Crest follows this precedent, as spiritualism seeps through every second of Crest. In the first track, The Flag Is Raised, Ecco’s cooing falsetto introduces the recurring motif of the fountain and the arrowhead, referring to Mary’s Well, where Catholic tradition says Mary first learned she would bear the son of God, and the destructive Christian Crusades. Despite the use of Christian imagery, Drain Gang embrace a philosophy that is more Buddhist in nature: In Faust, Bladee accepts death as a part of life’s cycle and the natural end to suffering, declaring “Suffering stops, bodies drop/Flowers sprout, bloom, die and rot”. In Yeses (Red Cross), Ecco embraces the idea of surrendering one’s material possessions as a step on the quest to spiritual perfection. “Dropped everything off at the Red Cross” puts this philosophical outlook in layman’s terms, and also exhibits the directness that is present in much of Drain Gang’s songwriting. 

One of the most unique components in their work is such directness – the expression of such sophisticated ideas through the simple lyrics of a pop song. In the same song where he talks simply about donating to the Red Cross, Ecco2k refers to the 108 names for God in Hinduism as a convoluted metaphor for self-improvement. The unique blend of plain, direct writing in lyricism with complex, layered metaphors defines Drain Gang.

The nine-minute long 5 Star Crest (4 Vattenrum)  exemplifies Drain Gang’s ability to create living, moving musical works: consisting of 5 parts, each at just over a minute long, is five different songs and one single song at the same time. Part one opens with Ecco2k’s sparkling falsetto, refracted through autotune-like sunlight through a stained glass window. At the end of the verse, he asks with a dejected air, “Am I missing something?” 

This should lead to a sad song, but not for Drain Gang. In just a minute’s time, the song cuts into something else; upbeat pop, with twinkling synthesizers punctuated by a sample from cult classic video game Street Fighter 2. In another minute’s time, Ecco2k is lamenting his own self-destructive tendencies over an eerily warbling backtrack. One more song later, over the warped sounds of sheep bleating, Bladee questions the imminence of death. He delivers the darkest line over the most saccharine beat: “Give it to me raw, death is beautiful”.

This is all within the same nine-minute song, and I think this best embodies the incredible range of Drain Gang’s. For a group whose existence is highlighted, in a large part, by a sort of childlike innocence and new-age “ironicness”, there is a remarkable sophistication present in their work.