Espers. It almost sounds like ’embers’. And that is a wonderful word. A word that sounds magical and enchanting and should by law be recited daily for the general wellbeing of mankind.
As it transpires, ‘magical’ and ‘enchanting’ are apt adjectives to attach to Espers’ latest album. Their ballsy ’60s psych folk has a beguiling quality to it. The unfurling layers and unexpected chord changes lend Espers an air of mystique, and stoke comparisons to Emmerhoff & The Melancholy Babies.
But this Philadelphia six-piece are far enough into their career to have found their own sound, which proudly draws influences from the likes of Fairport Convention and Amps For Christ.
Caroline is an early highlight of III with its aching, haunting strings serenading glistening acoustic guitar. Sightings is also strong, its frosty Zero 7 keys entwine with bright guitars to paint a shimmering backdrop for an understated vocal from Meg Baird (who at times sounds a dead ringer for The Cranberries‘ Dolores O’Riordan) to prosper.
But if Espers are undone by anything it’s their own lack of variation. III possesses no light and dark, no highs and lows, and seems devoid of any real ingenuity. The contrast in the mood of the songs that comprise the album is slim at best. The result is that III is a tiring, wearying listen.
This weariness is manifested illustratively by Another Moon Song. Clocking in at six minutes, and exhibiting nothing but an excruciatingly bland musical narrative, the song prompts a powerful desire to expurgate its title – italicizing the first word and deleting the second.
III’s lack of variation becomes terminal as the album plods on. And on. 47 minutes of the same type of wistful psych-folk is too long, and tantamount to self-indulgence. By the time the closing couplet of Colony and Trollslanda is in site, III is making a laborious job of hobbling towards the finish post.
It’s a pitfall that detracts significantly from their plus points. And indeed, given the true meaning of the word ‘espers’ (a term used to refer to psychics), it’s ironic that the band lacked the foresight to prevent falling victim to such a fundamental flaw.