The music Espers create call to mind a number of varied influences – Amber Asylum, Rain Parade, Fairport Convention (w/ Sandy Deny), Pantangle, early King Crimson (Court of the Crimson King / Wake of Poseidon) with Sabbath like moments. And I’ll add the Cocteau Twins to this, if only cause I haven’t seen anyone use that comparison yet. The band also represents a direction within the “neo-folk” movement I prefer – one more oriented towards jazz and rock and less contrived or thought out. Hearkening back to the ‘60’s and ‘70’s era of psychedelic folk-rock, but their sound has a very free and uncontrived feel that could only be achieved through a process of continual refinement. But I don’t get the sense of imitation or irony that many bands playing psychedelic music these days convey. A lot of time and care has obviously been invested in creating an album as rich as this and having it flow rather than coalesce into some nostalgic trendy niche. The band has also recently evolved from a trio to the sextet we here on “Espers II,” their third full length, and so has gotten a bit more involved.
“Espers II” comes with the following instructions: “This album is to be played as loud as possible, as quiet as impossible and thank you very much.” These are appropriate directions. The music suits a number of occasions…
The instrumentation alone on this album provides much for a listener to wander in. It features everything from what sounds like Tibetan singing bowls at the album’s opening, to flutes, violins, a whole array of vintage synths and effects, not to mention sundry percussion all topped off with the haunting vocal harmonies. Meg Biard’s voice is a very strong presence on the record. They don’t make voices as strong as this any more. Each song manages to be catchy with pretty enough melodic lines while at the same time creating an epic atmosphere of time displacement that blurs the sense of a songs beginning or ending.
It’s hard to imagine an album like this falling on deaf ears given the current scene. But even with this factored into the equation, I think this album comes out on a much higher level than a lot of other bands going for the same sound. All and all I get the sense of a very capable band managing to write with a natural restraint that doesn’t leave the music sounding stiff or monotonous even at it’s most repetitive.
My only complaint might be that most songs are slow and melancholic – but because this fits my mood a lot of the time, I can’t fault this too much. Maybe a better way of saying this would be that Espers have found a sound that I can foresee growing into something even more involved than what is presented on “Espers II.”
The three songs in the middle of the CD, starting with “Cruel Storm,” “Children of the Stone,” and “Mansfield and Cyclops” have a more composed and slightly restrained feel, particularly the first two. These songs feature strong vocal harmonies that counter balance flutes or strings giving off an almost medieval quality. The last of these three, “Mansfield and Cyclops,” is played in more of a jazz feel but still possesses that sense of mystery and awe that all the song on this album have. It also features one of the more percussive moments with its extended jam in the middle. These three songs give a listener a good idea of a lot of what this band can accomplish and I can only imagine that there’s more to come.
Lyrically (from what I’ve been able to decipher and the one or two I’ve found deciphered on the web) it seems like the words are more an appendage of the music. On this album, language seems to be used more for its evocative quality, mostly for effect and not too much for sense. Children of the Stone is a sort of psychedelic fairy tale lamenting the chthonic aspect of human nature that turns inward, away from “light” and organic growth towards a sedentary “crystalline” nature. At least that’s what I gathered. The last song, “Moon Occults the Sun” seems to look forward to a time when night dominates and makes things somehow “clear.” Like the dreamy and cryptic words of Eno or Joy Division, the listener creates most of the meaning out of what is heard, although there are connected images presented in them.
Lastly, I’m sure that this album is only a taste of what the band can deliver live. From what I’ve read online, their live shows are more evolved than what is on record, and this I’d really like to hear. There’s a link to a live show here –
I couldn’t get my computer to open the file for some reason, but according to the host site it’s an “archive” show and meant to be opened in Windows Media Player.
I highly recommend this album.