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Espers - II CD (album) cover

II

Espers

 

Prog Folk

3.95 | 38 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars This is pretty original stuff in case anyone is paying attention. When I reviewed their self-titled debut I said that if the core duo of psych-fuzzmeister Greg Weeks and folk-nymph Meg Baird could stay together, they would create something amazing at some point. Well they did stay together – sort of.

Espers II, according to Weeks, is actually a reincarnation of what was once Espers. Okay, whatever – seems a bit contrived to me. But there is some truth to the whole rebirth concept. What was officially a trio with several guest musicians in 2002 has become – well, a trio with several guest musicians in 2006. But it appears the separation between the two halves is gone. The sextet that performs on this album comes across as a single, contiguous unit. And the net result is another breathy and adventurous and intoxicating musical experience, only one that has an even richer breadth of sounds than the first album.

Even though the liner notes only identify the players by their last names and pictures, it doesn’t take much effort to discover the cellist here is Helena Espvall, who has also appeared on duet releases with Meg Baird, and has performed live with Espers and with Weeks’ solo side project. This album includes drums (unlike the debut where the tempo was kept thanks mostly to finger cymbals and dulcimer) and although their presence is barely felt, Devendra Banhart drummer Otto Hauser adds to a growing sense of a new musical twist from Espers that blends early folk-inspired psych with the complexity and patience of post-rock. A Silver Mt. Zion came close to this but with a harder, often angry edge; and Ozric Tentacles dabbled here as well although steeped deeply in the psych side of the equation. With Espers there is a sense of balance that yields a net result of getting the listener inside of themselves, while in the end leaving you feeling pretty good about life and the world around you in a realistic but not fatalistic way. A true talent.

“Children Of Stone” is the trippiest and longest track here, an unhurried wander through mild fuzz guitar and a variety of eclectic and mostly uncredited instruments like the doumbek, dholak, chimes, and dulcimer; and the more mundane but still folksy 6-string acoustic guitars and soft snare drums.

On the more psych end of the spectrum, “Mansfield and Cyclops” features both drums and fuzz prominently, as well as a very striking and eerie picked sound that I believe is an autoharp. With an instrument like that you have two ways to go: folksy, or pretentious. These guys manage to avoid sounding pretentious, so they must be the real deal.

I really can’t say enough about this album. The compositions are all remarkably unhurried, rich in acoustic sounds, percussion and loose, meandering tempos. Meg Baird has a voice that seems to both channel Sandy Denny and extend the capabilities of more mainstream vocalists like Shawn Colvin.

Best track? Hard to say, but the drawn-out and spacey “Dead King” is a top pick with lots of hard-to-identify percussion, Baird’s lazy vocals, and a tempo that doesn’t put you to sleep but sure gets you feeling laid back in a hurry. “Widow's Weed” is another top offering with some exquisite acoustic guitar and a very Mt Zion-like dissonant cello/violin combination.

An outstanding follow-up to the band’s 2002 debut, Espers II shows growth and progression in both the range of sounds and complexity of the arrangements. What hasn’t changed are the things that work: Baird and Weeks’ complementary folk vs. psych styles, Baird’s luscious vocals, and the liberal sprinkling of exotic and inspiring instrumentation. A seriously excellent album, and very highly recommended.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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