Just in time for worldwide isolation, Drag City have reissued the staggering first two albums of the truly psychedelic folk outfit Espers. Alongside a handful of guests, the Philadelphia trio of Greg Weeks, Brooke Sietinsons, and AD-favorite Meg Baird delivered one of the great debuts of The Golden Apples Of The Sun-era—a spritely and melancholic concoction poured from the outermost edges of the folk and classical traditions.
With the group’s sound fully formed from the album’s first moments, Espers is an especially heady mix of spectral vocals, hypnotic fingerpicking, rattling percussion, and swirling atmospherics. “Riding” and “Daughter” showcase the (somewhat) lighter side of the group, while the monumental “Travel Mountains” takes the darkest path through the Appalachians with wordless vocals and crunching riffs riding lockstep. The eight-minute centerpiece “Hearts & Daggers” finds Weeks and Baird trading vocals over a chiming background that eventually comes untethered—imagine a dosed version of The Pentangle letting loose at a stone circle. With a formula in place from their very inception, and a bevy of surprising tricks in their satchel (Quentin Stoltzfus’s earth-shaking tone generator here, a Hawaiian lick there), Espers sounds even more innovative and vital nearly two decades removed from the New Weird American wasteland.
Having expanded to a sextet by the time of the 2005 follow-up The Weed Tree, Espers seamlessly stitched together a brilliant tapestry of traditional songs (“Rosemary Lane,” “Black Is The Color”) and disparate second-hand threads (Michael Hurley, Nico, Durutti Column, Blue Oyster Cult) with their own acid-dipped needle. The addition of Otto Hauser, Chris Smith, and Helena Espvall finds the group’s sound more full-bodied—dense and dissipating like incense billowing from a thurible in an abandoned cathedral. Their take on Blue Oyster Cult’s searing “Flaming Telepaths” is The Weed Tree’shighpoint—all circuitous and smoldering until an acid lead cracks the sky wide open at the five-and-a-half minute mark. “Dead King,” the album’s sparkling lone original (which they would revisit on 2006’s II), ends the album on a stunning note—Baird’s vocals oscillating between celestial and effect-laden, while sitting atop an endlessly expressive and shifting background. A revelatory covers album that rounds out a pair of essential releases for psychedelic and folk fans alike. words / k evans
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