There are those times when, within the first 30 seconds of listening to a new CD, you know you’re listening to something truly special. It’s a slowly dawning sensation that spreads over you shortly after pressing “Play,” a satisfaction that comes from not just knowing your money has been well spent, but that you’re listening to a CD that will still be vital listening 6 months from now. I experienced it listening to Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Low’s I Could Live in Hope, and Starflyer 59’s Silver. And now I’m adding Goldenwest to that illustrious list.
But such was not always the case. I’d caught Ester Drang at Cornerstone a few years back, and was relatively unimpressed. They knew how to make a wall of noise (their’s was one of the louder shows I saw that year), but that was about it. And although Nolan really liked their previous disc, That Is When He Turns Us Golden, it sounded like a blatant attempt to pay homage to their influences (Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine, Starflyer 59). So when I caught them in concert a few weeks back, it was mainly out of a sense of curiosity that I picked up their CD. And then I saw their live show… and I knew I was in for something special.
Listening to Goldenwest, it’s obvious that the band has undergone a tremendous amount of growth. So much so that That Is When He Turns Us Golden almost seems irrelevant. Although their previous “wall of noise” ethic is still in place, it’s been harnessed and refined by better songwriting. The result is an album that’s incredibly beautiful and cohesive. It fearlessly breaks new ground for the band but still remains quite listenable and enjoyable. These are actual songs, not just slabs of feedback and distortion, and what glorious songs they are.
The opening moments of Goldenwest set the stage for what you’re about to hear; cascading piano melodies and soaring guitars, fluid basslines and fluttering electronics fill “Songs For Jonathon” to the brim. “How Good Is Good Enough?” may just be what Radiohead was hoping to accomplish with Kid A, a synthesis of swirling electronica and post-rock minus all of the nihilism. The band looks to their shoegazer roots on “That Is When He Turns Us Golden” with its buried vocals and countless layers of synths and fuzzy guitars. It may be the noisiest track on the album, but there’s still a pop heart beating at the its core.
The album’s final song, “Felicity, Darling,” is both it’s most intimate and most grandiose. Compared to the previous songs, the opening minutes, with their sad violin and gentle Rhodes piano, sound stripped down. But the final minute is a powerful climax that serves as a fitting finale to everything that’s transpired beforehand.
It’s rare that an album this solid comes along, and when it does, you have to take it for all it’s worth. Like Antarctica, Ester Drang knows how to take all of their influences and still craft something incredibly unique. But somehow, Ester Drang’s efforts are even less blatant (as good as Antarctica was, they still had that feeling of trying too hard to be The Cure). You can call it post-rock, dreampop, shoegazer, psych-rock, or whatever other description trips your trigger. It has all of the earmarks of those genres, but that doesn’t diminish the album’s creativity and beauty one bit.
To be honest, it’s almost disheartening to listen to an album like this. After seeing them put on a brilliant show (one my friends and I still talk about), I sat down and listened to some of my band’s songs, and I just felt like quitting. I didn’t, so all 3 of our fans can relax, but it just felt like Goldenwest said all that I wanted to say, written all I wanted to write. So thanks a lot guys. Next time, could you release a slightly less brilliant album so that I can feel a little better about my music? I’d appreciate it.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.