Back when I was in college, (yes, I can remember back that far), if I could have made a dollar every time someone told me they were ‘born in the wrong era,’ I could have at least bought myself a decent lunch everyday. The truth is that most of these people simply wished for a time when drugs were a little easier to come by and slightly more pure. For Greg Weeks and his band Espers, however, it feels a little more apt. No other band could find themselves more at home in the ’60s, yet the only twist is: which ’60s? Espers can call up sounds and images from 1660 just as well as from 1960 and every ’60s decade in between. It’s difficult to actually review an album from the Philadelphia collective that once was three and now is six. There are very few comparisons save for a few to some British folk obscurities that critics only throw in to prove how learned they are.
More difficulties arrive in trying to pigeonhole Espers into one particular genre. The opening track off of their latest epic masterpiece, II, “Dead Queen,” is Elizabethan theatre folk with electric guitars, while its follower, “Widow’s Weed,” is Floyd playing with Crazy Horse. Throughout most of the tracks, Meg Baird’s voice delicately floats as if the name of the band were a hybrid of ‘whispers’ and ’embers.’ In truth, ‘espers’ is a science fiction term used for people with telekinetic powers and was once the name of a comic book I collected back in the ’80s, drawn by David Lloyd, the artist for Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. (How’s that for tangential nothingness?) With six people, Espers have taken their game to a whole new level. The quiet storm of Espers, the band’s first album, used almost every instrument under the sun, that is until I found that II adds some more instruments, specifically ones that are both hard to spell and pronounce.
All of that is fairly unimportant. A small percent of the population knows what a doumbek or a dholak is (by the way, they’re drums), and roughly the same number of people has heard songs by bands such as Pentangle or the Incredible String Band. Suffice it to say that Weeks and his pals have, and are keeping the spirit of that music alive. The important thing is that II is an incredibly rich and beautiful collection of songs. The difference between Espers and their covers album, The Weed Tree was a marked one, and in the review for the latter I said, “After their first two releases, I know that I’ll be investing in every Espers’ endeavor from here forward.” Espers only reinforce that enthusiasm with II. With every release, Espers gets better and better, darker and bolder, weirder and lovelier. It’s hard to imagine where they can go from here, as II is so fully formed to be the richest realization of their psychedelic folk sound yet.
Last time out, Espers covered Vini Reilly’s Durutti Column gem, “Tomorrow.” It made me think of God, in the form of Tony Wilson, speaking to Tony Wilson in the film 24 Hour Party People that Vini is great and it’s “good music to chill out to.” So too are Espers. Great music can be enjoyed on numerous levels. II can be dissected into the various tracks of different instruments and pulled apart melody by melody to the point where everything is a composite of its basest elements. Or, you can simply lie back at your campground, watch the stars and simply let your mind go. The latter seemed so attractive to the group that they were contemplating a tour of planetariums rather than more traditional venues. Then again, Espers never were entirely traditional. One can’t entirely wrap their head around II in mere days, for that it just might take Weeks.
Label: Drag City