Friday, December 7, 2007

Espers - 2004 - Espers

Renaissance faire drop-outs using the gamut of instruments available (acoustic and electric guitar, autoharp, dulcimer, recorder, violin, cello, keyboards, percussion) creating the feel of Britain in the ISB 60s with Sandy Denny taking the helm vocally and her sister and brother sometimes adding back-up. This is the sound of Espers and it couldn’t be any better. That is to say for the genre that they inhabit and mine for their particular brand of folk the group does an admirable job of stripping it bare of its good ideas, and leaving the bad. “Flowery Noontide” lays down the gauntlet, so to speak, with recorder, guitar and autoharp weaving among one another a jaunty little number that does little more than you’d expect.

In fact, it’s so by-the-numbers that the interest comes when the group gets out of the finger-pick Olympiad (once they’ve warmed up each jump yields diminishing returns) and stretches towards modernity: “Riding”’s drawn out ponderous Sonic Youth guitar solo (eventually duels with itself(!)), “Hearts and Daggers”’ extended freak-out ending and “Byss & Abyss”’ plug in/plug out guitar tones being particular highlights. And, luckily, that’s the rule rather than the exception here. It’s as though “Flowery Noontide” is the soft entering, pulling you towards further experimentation, further examination…and, most importantly, further pleasure. Aside from the penultimate “Daughter”, each song after “Flowery Noontide” has an unsettling moment(s), leaving the listener both interested and put off. To many, especially those looking for a bit more than straight British folk rips this is a good thing: the less Fairport Convention and more Dr. Strangely Strange that they get, the better.

So, is this the yang to Stone Breath’s darkened yin? Despite the fact that the instrumentation isn’t as clouded and menacing as that group, the lyrics are seemingly just as troubling, “Byss & Abyss” singing about a “car crash”, “Hearts and Dagggers” being a self-explanatory title and others bathed in too much reverb to make out clearly much of the time. It’s certainly not on the same mystical tip, but creepiness does abound.

Which is probably the only way that the “New Weird America” genre is going to push things forward, so to speak. By looking backward and painting accurate pictures of a certain scene and adding various threads that those masters never bothered to pick up (or weren’t able to), Espers has crafted a unique and beautiful album full of promise and substance—something that isn’t pulled off easily. A recommended listen. ~ Stylus

01. Flowery Noontide
02. Meadow
03. Riding
04. Voices
05. Hearts & Daggers
06. Byss & Abyss
07. Daughter
08. Travel Mountains