Technology has long been a point of contention for musicians and listeners. While the ability for anyone with $500 to record an entire album in their room has led to some great music, the lackluster output of most hobbyists since R. Stevie Moore has over-saturated a market rife with promise. Scottish singer/songwriter/festival player Esperi (a name strikingly similar to British surreal artist and SubGenius par excellence Espira) has, according to his press release, received general praise from the UK media that has covered his material to date. Given a leaning towards soft, lush, and (dare I say it) bucolic folk-pop, his style is meant for the solo musician. Not as dense or diary-gazing as the works of musicians like Kyle Field, Phil Elvrum, and pre-Yellow House Grizzly Bear, his scant EPs, singles, and one-off CD-R releases have been compiled as a retrospective of sorts simply called The EP. Hints of bleaker landscapes through the rays aplenty are always there, but the disc itself is a mostly bright moment.
Lyrically, Esperi (né Chris Lee-Marr) remains close to the vest but slightly obscured in the traditional metaphor as much as his hushed delivery. ‘Made For Life’ could be about happiness within oneself or a pseudo-Calvinist with its chorus of, “This is why/you’re made for life/you’re a survivor/you’re made for life.” With sparse but enveloping strings and the odd handbell part, the song’s almost banal uplifting mood does manage to become more cloying and enjoyable than anticipated. Lee-Marr also takes the time to multitrack himself in most occasions, lending his music a tightness and subtlety that serves the production well. Given the restrained instrumental palette of acoustic guitar, electric bass, jazz drum kit, voice, and scant percussion (bells, glockenspiel, shakers, etc. – the typical fare), the simplicity and repetition of sounds lends the disparate releases a sense of unity and sameness as much as the songwriting style. Be certain that Esperi writes in only one style – take one part Light Green Leaves, one part Blood, and one part For Emma, Forever Ago and blend well. Strain through a sieve and gentle fold in one part modern balladry until combined, and let it sit in the freezer for 24 hours in a loaf pan. Turn onto parchment lined baking sheet and cut into 5’00” lengths (on average). Derivative seems too harsh, as the playing is cleaner and the writing more focused on the “you” that can’t be placed, distancing Lee-Marr’s writing from the previously mentioned artists who can unwittingly identify their targets and audience in a single lyrical turn.
Only the first four tracks remain locked into this style, often using electronic manipulation only in multi-tracking to allow for the full instrumentation to fit. Closing duo ‘Takkat’ and ‘My Tear Dissolved The View’ take the bells of before and run them through a dicer and recombine them, Max/MSP status, leading to a sound more fitting for a Four Tet remix by Fleet Foxes than a new herd of Mountain Goats. And that’s where the disc falls flat, for in this style the music tends to dissolve into the background where before it would forcefully take the foreground by gently easing into the ear. ‘My Tear’ rides a simple 808 loop with some dub delay play, using a simple lead to propel the song for its running length rather than a memorable verse or chorus. ‘Takkat’ in retrospect comes off as an outtake for a C-section of ‘My Tear’ and sounds more fitting as a B-side than a closing track, as it sonically aligns but lacks the understated power of Esperi’s other works. The aforementioned press release has the gall to compare these two songs to the work of Aphex Twin, but must be comparing them only to the music box synth of ‘Nannou’ or the MIDI-based play in ‘Girl/Boy Song’ and ‘To Cure A Weakling Child.’ Lord knows the music is nowhere near the density, musical inventiveness, and ridiculously tight programming of Richard D. James’ discography. Still down in the mouth, the pieces come off as meditations for snowy nights or cold mornings more than melodies to rise above the grey sans the catharsis of self-reflection.
It would seem that Esperi works best when choosing to remain true to emotions vocally, as removed from his dulcet tones his music falls flat. By removing that lynchpin, nothing succeeds fully and instead doom the end of The EP to the sort of soporific fare expected from, well, a folk musician with a copy of Logic Express. The effect is like seeing your favorite font with serifs – a take on a classic concept that is surprising, playful even, but leaves one longing for the classic after a while. If Esperi sticks to his strengths of crafting understated beauty reflective of isolation and fields of low hills covered in grass, then The LP will succeed massively well. Much like Tyler, the Creator’s ‘Au79’ compared to the rest of Goblin, sometimes instrumentals are best left to their relegations behind the cloud of vocals. At least the rest is the sort of lazy day, gin & tonic with extra lime fare that relaxation and useful depression are made of.