ESPERS – II (Wichita)

Philadelphia based band Espers release their second album, which could not, apparently, be more different from their debut. Not having heard the latter I will have to accept that it contained covers from such polar opposites as Durutti Column and Blue Oyster Cult, but for this one all the tunes are self-penned and so the band themselves can show what they have to offer. A cursory glance at the sleeve might lead you to believe that we are dealing with a goth band, as amongst all the black and weird symbolism are such titles as ‘Dead Queen’, ‘Widow’s Weed’ and ‘Cruel Storm’. However, stick it on and you get a sort of mashed up folk/psyche/rock amalgam which, while it might have a certain gothic element in places, is for the most part fairly light and pleasant. The afore-mentioned ‘Dead Queen’ is a great opener, as it is one of the darker pieces, and the sweeping wind effects give it an otherworldly feel which is echoed by Meg Baird’s fragile vocals. ‘Widow’s Weed’ makes better use of her for this plaintive folk ballad, and the addition of a string quartet adds an extra haunting quality. ‘Cruel Storm’ and ‘Children Of Stone’ follow on from this template, with some great atmospheric music behind Meg’s folky vocals, while ‘Mansfield And Cyclops’ brings the acoustic guitar more to the fore, resulting in the band’s most overt folk offering so far, which ironically also includes the best electric guitar solo. ‘Dead King’ is the companion piece to ‘Dead Queen’, but is musically quite different, with the latter being much more bomabastic than this gloomy folk piece, with its violin backing emphasising the melancholy of the song. To be honest I did not know what to think of this when I first heard it, but it is a grower, and while the tunes might not be hummable pop ditties they do evoke the unease and disquiet which the band aimed for with these modern folk songs. Worth sampling first, but hopefully you will find it as intriguing as I did.