Psych-folk trio Espers get it right on the first try in their self-titled debut. While their summery, acid-tinged kind of folk occasionally misfires on the indie-rock route, when it sticks to dilated pupils, Appalachian fiddles and sparkling chimes, it stays a good thing.
It opens with a song that pretty much sums up what the sound is all about: "Flowery Noontide." It opens with soft windchimes, right before a flute, guitar and Meg Baird's indistinct vocals kick in. It proceeds pretty much in that vein, sounding like a stoned summer afternoon at the Renaissance Festival. In short, quite good.
That lush folk sound continues throughout the album, mixing stately folk tunes with fuzz and some classical flourishes. Songs like "Meadow" err on the side of folk, despite that implosive riff. On the other hand, "Hearts and Daggers" veers over to Neutral Milk Hotel-like indie-rock, with weird flourishes and thick fuzz.
Actually, that indie-rock bent does have its weakness -- Espers sometimes seem unsure what to do with all the indie flourishes. "Riding" is downright painful to listen to at high volumes, because of a riff that completely drowns out the delicate acoustic layers.
Fortunately by the end of the album, they seem to have grasped how it should sound. And the fragile stoner folk sound is remarkably pretty, without the grounded sound that people usually associate with folk. This stuff is up in the sky, and it's staying there.
Meg Baird and Greg Weeks share vocal duties, and they both sound sweet and laid-back, although I had difficulty hearing what Meg was saying. Then again, the lyrics seem to fade away in front of the lush instrumentation -- acoustic
guitar and fiddle, often overlaid with an otherworldly flute, chimes, dulcimer and classical strings.
Espers' self-titled debut is a charming, sweet trip through layers of acid-folk. Best listened to on a lazy summer day, with wind-chimes and crickets.