Esser, Ben Esser to his nearest and dearest, is 23 years old, hails from Essex and sports the best quiff since Morrissey. He also has two tattoos, one ‘good’ one ‘bad’, on either side of his neck.
Predictably, certain music magazines have called him the ‘male Lily Allen‘ based on the fact that he’s white, young and, well, English. Sure there’s a whiff of ska on some songs, and he chooses to sing in a simple, conversational style, but he also touches on garage rock, dub, electro and R&B. And on Satisfied he attempts what may well be a soundtrack to a lost Chaplin film.
His debut album Braveface is restless, settling on a sound only to master it and move on by the time the next song rolls around. Miraculously, the whole thing hangs together perfectly, each song complementing the last and what should be a mess of disparate influences, becomes a cohesive whole.
Lyrically it’s surprisingly melancholy, the focus being either the loss of a relationship (Work It Out), the struggle to keep a partner happy (Satisfied) or sheer frustration at how things have turned out (the brilliant Headlock, with the classic line “bury me in sand like a knackered stallion”).
Leaving Town, the album’s bold opener, is a rush of Graham Coxon-like buzz-saw guitars, paranoia and resignation: “There’s a fire in my heart and it’s breaking me down.” Such a morose outlook is tempered by the perfectly pitched chorus of ‘la, la, las’ that rises and falls throughout.
The title track is the album’s pure pop moment; over a summery groove and skittering beat, Esser muses on the merits of pretending in order to keep the peace. Again, the musical perkiness is offset by the lyrics; “When you feel like you’ve had all you can take/ Tie a brick to your ankles and jump in the lake”.
Seductive hooks ooze out of every song, from the simple chorus on the heart-wrenching Bones, to the futuristic space pop of recent single Work It Out, to the dark, undulating closer, Stop Dancing. Previous single I Love You houses a verse as catchy as any chorus and even the relatively straight forward This Time Around features a gorgeous breakdown midway through, co-producer Lexxx (Golden Silvers, Crystal Castles) piling on the backing vocals over some fuzzy guitar stabs.
As with pop peer Frankmusik, Esser is able to create inventive but immediate pop songs, ones that sound loved and cared for. Choruses are unashamedly signposted throughout, the melodies never clouded in unnecessary studio trickery or hampered by clunking lyrics.
History may consign him to the box marked ‘pop stars who told it how it was’ alongside The Streets and Lily Allen, but Esser deserves to be cherished with whoever gets picked to represent maverick pop at its best.