traumatic harmony
the pataphysical study of randomized sound
4.06.2006
Songs of my Life, pt. 1: Espers "Dead Queen"

This is the beginning of what I think will be a long term series of musing on the songs that dominate my conscience in day to day life.

"Dead Queen" is the first track from Espers' forthcoming album Espers II coming out on Drag City. My feelings on Espers are pretty well documented (see my Dusted reviews of Espers and The Weed Tree), so I'll only mention that they're probably my favorite band out of Philadelphia right now. That said, I can think of no song to better summarize what they're about than this one. First of all, it's proof that the passacaglia is alive and well in the 21st century (or perhaps, that Espers never quite managed to escape the 15th), taking a fairly simple chord progression and repeating it for over 8 minutes without it ever getting old. I would go into why the chord progression works, but that would probably be a super-boring discussion for everyone except the uber-dorky music grad student geeks (like myself), so suffice it so say, the progression is tart without being effusive, despite its minor key. In fact, this song probably works because it is nearly emotionless: Meg Baird's multi-tracked voice shimmers but expresses a mood instead of a feeling; the interlocking cello lines have something to say but stand back and let you determine what exactly that something is; and the organs buzz neutrally, adding texture, not meaning. The only time this mask gets pulled back is for the fuzz and wah-wah drenched guitar solo in the middle. Amazingly, I get goose bumps at a different part of that solo every time I hear it. You might now ask, "how could a song be worthwhile if it has no feeling?" To which I reply that this has the same mystic allure as a masquerade ball, the sense that there could be anything behind the silent grin and the danger that comes with it. Or, alternately, it is like the flash of bare flesh in a veiled society; that little bit of skin means that much more when things remain hidden. And perhaps in a culture where everyone's screwed up emotions are on display all the time on reality tv, it is reserve that is the truly radical statement. 
Comments:
Wow, Dan! What a stunning description of that Espers song! Your comments about and reviews of Espers are for me the standard-bearer for excellent music writing -- eloquent, elegant, perceptive. Be well!

Sincerely,

Teresa P.
 
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7/29/2008

Gal Costa - Gal
X - Los Angeles/Wild Gift
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