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Espers - Espers CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.58 | 29 ratings

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4 stars Spooky, Ethereal, Freak Folk Indeed

Espers is one of a small group of newish bands playing various (mostly) acoustic instruments to create an independent music that has gone by all sorts of names, but my favorite is Freak Folk. The use of autoharp, flute, acoustic guitar, spritely voices and plenty of hippy trappings certainly have been gathered under a "folk" name before, but of course new and folk are a bit of an anachronism. Instead, this music is more of a soundtrack to a wiccan / pagan cultural movement that certainly tracks back through hippy times to centuries ago, but the sound is actually pretty fresh. This ain't no Peter, Paul, and Mary. Heck this ain't even Pentangle (a band that clearly was crossing true folk ideas with the sound of the British flower child sound of the time).

Whatever the name, this band certainly has their share of new ingredients to throw into their witchy stew. The most obvious is the use of dissonant harmony across the entire sound. The result is eerie and dark, and on this debut album, by the time we get to the big fuzz bass on the last song, "Travel Mountains," it actually feels like we're tunneling under the mountain, waiting for Gollum to grab us by the throat. And yet, Meg Baird's light vocals are almost angelic, creating a tension between light and dark that is extremely compelling. Greg Weeks relatively straightforward vocal tonality leaves us the impression of an innocent young man wandering into the enchanted woods, about to be beset and devoured by some ancient curvy spirits of the earth.

The instrumentation is quite interesting as well. Using both drones and slow rhythmic elements (strumming or arpeggios usually) the band is able to produce an airy, ethereal feel despite having the voices compressed so hard that it feels like the singers are whispering directly into your ear. Cellos, flutes, ebow guitar, 12-string, dulcimer are all credited along with "acid leads" (I assume the fuzz bass) and "tone generator" (which is some form of synthesizer). Though there are occasional noisy, free-form solo spots, never do the instruments truly draw attention to themselves in any way other than tonality.

Many of the emotional ideas aimed at by post-rockers are done, much better, here. The slow builds and dreamy soundscapes are similar. But the sense of variety is so much better on this disc. But like post-rock, the biggest downside is too much of the same emotion. While the world that Espers takes me to is rich in dark color, I'm not really allowed to explore different varieties of terrain. We remain deep in the forest at night. It's too dark, too long. A little ray of sun peeking through the trees, a little ebb and flow of the tension, or, frankly, a few up beat sections, all would have moved this from a 3-4 star album to a possible prog folk masterpiece.

As it is, this is really good and it's not as if there were a load of bands doing this before Espers got started. The other Wyrd, or Pagan, or Freak Folk bands sound decidedly different from Espers. To my knowledge, there still isn't another band that sounds quite like this. 4/5.

Negoba | 4/5 |


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