As I write this review, a sudden downpour has begun it's onslaught outside and the sky has turned grey. Esmerine's record has become, effortlessly, one of my favourite albums of recent memory - and the weather seems appropriate. The album is tinged with nostalgia, filled with gentle, sombre moments of reflection that sit well with gazing longingly from one's window. In this moment, the rain makes for a touching accompaniment.
Comprising another fine project from Montreal's avant-garde community, loosely composed around the Godspeed arc of the last decade - La Lachuza represents Esmerine's first record in six years, after a strong debut release on Alien8 and a self-released follow-up. This is the group's first album for Constellation and there's an element of homecoming about this body of work. Dedicated to the memory of renowned Montreal singer Lhasa de Sela, a dear friend of the band, La Lachuza is by turns emotive and powerful, delicately wrought and stunningly beautiful.
Previous Esmerine albums have been wholly instrumental works, focused around the lyrical cello lines of Becky Foon and Bruce Cawdron's marimba and glockenspiel. This is still largely the case, with fine interplay between drawn-out strings and staccato percussion - but La Lachuza has given opportunity for Esmerine to expand to a four-piece outfit, incorporating harp and additional percussion. These elements round Esmerine's sound into a more inviting dynamic, and allow a complexity of rhythm and melody as evidenced on the majestic 'Trampolin', a flurry of hyperactive notes that recalls Sigur Ros' experimental work. Elsewhere, 'Sprouts' employs restrained instrumentation to it's credit- a slow build giving way to frenetic choral moments, rich with colour.
Marking a departure from previous work, Esmerine here involve vocal duties on a few of the album tracks. This seemingly bold move had me worried- their instrumental sound has been evocative enough, and there's always an implication with vocal lines that they lead the song, detracting from the instrumentation beneath. Not so here, as 'Last Waltz'- the first of the album's vocal tracks, demonstrates. Calling on the services of Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre member Sarah Pagé, the track is arced around the ominous refrain “words are waiting to be said”- but the music is balanced throughout. In the spaces between verses, Neufield sings in chords, utelising her voice as another instrument to build sound with. Bathed in reverb, and set against the cello, harp and marimba- the effect is one of simple, longing beauty.
As with so many wonderful records, I have trouble pinning down exactly what this album is. La Lecuza has sounded different and perfectly appropriate in so many moments - at 4am sharp and angular, on a sunlit morning it is revelatory and awakening, and now - as the rain comes down in torrents, it seems nostalgic and affective. In so far as their own canon is concerned, this record must stand as a towering achievement, perhaps their most accomplished album to date. The recording standard is outstanding, the mix complementing the nature of the instruments and allowing space in between them- apparently much of the album was recorded live. I can't recommend this album highly enough - as someone who has followed the group from album one, it has pleased me greatly to hear such a wonderful record, one that exceeded my (already high) expectations so vastly. It is a rare pleasure, from start to finish.