28 May 2009

Catching Up with Esser and White Rabbits

It is always a struggle to keep up with everything – there is a lot out there, and so much that only exists as imports here in the States, that getting hold of a copy can be a challenge sometimes. Once I get hold of something, then starts the process of listening and determining if I like it or not. This is an important part of the process, because, at least at this point in the game, I have decided not to spend time on writing about music that I really do not care for, as I stated before (why bother wasting my limited time bitching about shit that made me roll my eyes when I listened to it the first time). Then once I determine if I like something, I have to listen to it again (and again) and find the time to write. (Many thanks to my friends who have stepped up to write along side of me, especially Juju, who shares my singular vision for the blog and has committed the time.) Well, these two CDs have been on my iTunes for a minute now, and I decided to put everything aside, come over to Gray Door Studio (as my connectivity is still giving me issues from time to time!) and write. Here are two artists, the pop mastermind Esser and the Brooklyn rockers White Rabbits, which have released excellent albums that you should not allow to get by you. Enjoy.

Esser: “Braveface”

He may look like a young Dexter Poindexter and sound like Blur’s Damon Alban, all comparisons to these two artists stop there. (Ben) Esser release of “Braveface” (4 May 2009 in the UK) may mark the return to pop music that is quirky, fun, and critically acclaimed. A tongue-in-cheek adventure through the world of pop music, Esser has learned from all that came before him: from pop to Brit pop, from electronic to rock, this album boasts all these influences with pride and flair. Esser shows no shame in stealing hooks from other artists, because as poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.” The reason that this works for Esser is because he brings in a fresh feeling to pop music that has been missing since the days before Erasure’s complacency and that lot of 80s electropop. What he delivers is strong music that you can party to, with some lyrics that will make you wonder what the hell is going on in this boy’s head.

Typical of Esser is his delivering an absurd view of the realistic world, like in “Headlock”: “Oh you got me in a headlock, nothing in the world is gonna help me now. Stamp me in the carpet, like a piece of a dirt, if the words fail then you just floor me…” A pop number you can easily dance to, this track points out the power struggles, abuse seen is so many relationships. This is not the typical theme of a pop song, but it works. “I Love You,” a track that I instantly fell for last year, with a near trip-hop beat, humor oozing everywhere (“love can be dreamy like internal bleeding”), and every pop hook to draw you into it. Then the brilliant closing track, “Stop Dancing.” The tempo is slowed down just enough to stop any dancing, but fast enough to keep you listening, “Please stop dancing, the world stops dreaming,” the song points out how it is between our joys and frolic that dreams are possible. And this album is all about joy and frolic, having a good time, even while pointing out inane scenarios.

I remember the days of great pop in the 80s. Whether the artists were pursuing new wave, synthpop, or rock, there was this element of wanting to produce music that the masses could enjoy that was no easy feat. (This may be part of the reason why there were so many one hit wonders, who had it in them to produce that dream of the universal pop song once, but could not do it again.) These bands wrote their own music, there was a creative flair, a distinct characteristic to every artist. It wasn’t as prevalent for producers and labels to “create” the next great pop act (with the exception of the boy and girl bands). Artists themselves were aiming at that. This is what Esser is doing. Incorporating all of these different elements of music, creating a hotchpotch of musical elements that can appeal to the widest range of audiences, while remaining true to his own vision of himself as a musician – a postmodern, techno geek, who has been influenced by everything that came before him. Though in today’s world, with broadband reality and more choices, it may be difficult for any one artist to dominate a wide range in audience ever again; Esser may be the closest artist to attempt to do so. And even if he does not succeed, you have to admit that this is great pop music.

Track Listing:
1. Leaving Town
2. Braveface
3. Headlock
4. Bones
5. Satisfied
6. Work It Out
7. I Love You
8. This Time Around
9. Real Life
10. Stop Dancing

Keep up with Esser at his homepage and Myspace. Here are two videos from his YouTube Channel: esservideo.

“I Love You”

“Headlock” (apologies if the video does not load, YouTube seems to be having some issues)

The White Rabbits: “It’s Frightening”

Hailing from Brooklyn (actually Brooklyn immigrates as they really hail from Missouri), the American Mecca of hipsters, the White Rabbits sophomore effort, “It’s Frightening” (19 May 2009), they continue to produce sloppy, loosely arranged music. It is not for lack of talent, this is the aim! The six-piece band includes two drummers, Matthew Clark and Jamie Levinson, as well as Alexander Even (guitar), Stephen Patterson (vocals, piano), Gregory Roberts (vocals, guitars), and Adam Russell (bass). With such a line up, you might expect a racket going on from beginning to end; instead what you get is a carefully crafted mess, making the best of the ability to make noise.

Opening with the single “Percussion Gun,” a song that wants to explode from its marching band feel, the band instantly demonstrates growth; highly crafted (with the beat dropping out completely two-thirds into the song to give the piano a bit more time to dominate the soundscape), the song is delivered with no frills, with vocals as deadpan as the music: “You’re tired of my love, I feel the same.” There is a sense of emotional defeat, isolation, which is evident in the delivery of the music throughout the entire album. This is most evident in “Company I Keep”: “I don’t mind mistakes, I go crawling back for anyone’s sake. I admit this associations bleak… the company I keep.” The album hinges on that feeling of emotional defeat, in both the lyrics and the arrangements. The album, as a whole, never explodes into frenzy. My only reservation of the album is the closing track, “Leave It at the Door.” Closing the album with what seems to be a cliché these days, a slow-paced tempo (in this case, no drums or percussion at all), trying to inspire an emotional response. To their credit, the song will evoke the listener to reflect, but I felt that such a band, with a unique line-up, could have conjured a more interesting way to ending the album.

The cover of the album is interesting. It depicts the collisions of the two antipodes of music: rhythm and melody, which have to be brought together. Drummer and piano collide, and this may be the best definition of the band. There is always a struggle between rhythm and melody; well with two drummers, it is bound to happen. Perhaps the more sedate sound of the sophomore effort can be accredited to producer Britt Daniel (of Spoon fame), but that would be taking away credit from the actual band. Perhaps the reason they choose to work with the Daniel is because that was the exact sound that they were trying to achieve, as oppose to being the result of working with Daniel. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing album that is being overlooked by the mainstream media – hipsters usually are. But you should take a listen, from the interesting percussion to the convulsion in the soundscape, this album is easily a stand out in this year's releases.

Track listing:
1. Percussion Gun
2. Rudiefails
3. They Done Wrong / We Done Wrong
4. Lionesse
5. Company I Keep
6. Salesman (Tramp Life)
7. Midnight and I
8. Right Where They Left
9. Lady Vanishes
10. Leave It at the Door

Keep up with the band at their homepage, MySpace, and Twitter.

Here is the video for “Percussion Gun” from their YouTube Channel thewhiterabbits.

1 comment:

  1. I have known of Esser for quite some time, a friend had shown me the "I Love You" video a while ago, and it is a great song! I can really see myself getting into both Esser and White Rabbit.