Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

After a debut entitled "Goldenwest", this four piece band from Oklahoma signed to Jade Tree, and "Infinite Keys" is able to prove how Ester Drang are a great new starter for this label. The music on this record is what any critic would call indie rock and I guess I have to follow them: with an exception anyway. Ester Drang play some of the finest indie rock music you will ever get to hear; it is clear this band really worked so hard on any piece of any song, and demo after demo they got what you will held in your hands: an extraordinary piece of rock music, nine tracks of pure passion, emotional moments and feelings that it’s hard to feel on any other album. Songs like "The Temple Mount", "No One Could Ever Take Your Face", "All The Feeling" and the closer "I don’t Want to Live ( in a world of infinite keys)" show the great capacity of Ester Drang to play songs that are actually complete: nothing on "Infinite Keys" is out of tune, or wrong.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

Infinite Keys, the second full-length album by Ester Drang, is a complex, layered, thirty-nine minute soundscape of nu-orchestral rock. Violins sigh, guitars twang, cymbals chime, robots go beep, all with the aspiration of surging and fading itself into the semblance of tragic beauty and good tunes. But excessive details provide the musical equivalent to a blob. Infinite Keys sounds more tin and tedious than beautiful.

The album begins with "The Temple Mount", a moody swell of violin crescendos, vibraphone twinkles, and minor feedback squeals while lethargic drums hold the tempo down. It sounds off key at moments. The singers un-poetic, whiney inflections make it even more difficult. The song seems overdone, the melody is lost under all the layers. The song "Oceans of You" is slightly more discernable but suffering the same ailments. The ditty is spoiled by a sporadic tumble of vocals, guitars, and drums. Vocal inflections reach potency when the singer mentions "existence". "If They Only Knew" may be the album’s only example of discipline. It avoids the reckless convergence of off-tune instruments. An acoustic guitar strums over soft whales of a violin while a two touch tune is tapped on a piano. The song respects nu-rock ambitions and sustains a lethargic pep. It is not a great song, but its an acceptable one.

I can envision a moment when Ester Drang’s Infinite Keys might be appropriate. In a bar with black walls, a crowd of exuberant drunks finish their sixth and realize they have run out of money. Quiet and sleepy-eyed, their descent begins. Its time to go home but no one can move. Then the band steps on the dark stage, the lights stay out. The slouching, sombre band members begin to play, swaying over the feeble crowd. Sobriety becomes poignant.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

"Infinite Keys" is the first release for the Oklahoma based Ester Drang on Jade Tree Records. Prior to working with Jade Tree the band released a full-length (Goldenwest)with Philly based label Burnt Toast Vinyl. The band is currently on tour with labelmates Pedro the Lion.

It’s about time this band have gotten some more attention in the indie rock world. A friend had recommended that I check out this band at the Cornerstone Festival in 2000. I was immediately impressed by the scope of this band. Here we are 3 years later…

"Infinite keys" is the band’s debut for Jade Tree Records. This isn’t much of a departure from the band’s last full-length on Burnt Toast Vinyl, however the majority of the songs on this newest disc are a bit shorter and more formulaic than it’s predesessor. This isn’t a bad thing. But some fans may be surprised by the change in song lengths. At any rate, Ester Drang still create beautifully layered landscapes of sound. Attached to lazy beats that make your head bob you’ll find bass, guitar, rhodes and the occasional spattering of saxophone or instruments not included in the band’s standard arsenal.

The disc starts off with the almost chaotic sounding "Temple Mount" then from there steadies itself on a path of melancholy/dreamy atmosphere. Lyrically the album seems anchored around the band’s spiritual beliefs without coming off as cheesey or forced.

Grade: B

Interview with Jeff Shoop (Ester Drang)

Ester Drang have been on my radar for a few years now. Now, I’m not saying that as an “I knew these guys WAY before you did”, it was actually by chance that I saw them. But for some reason, they have always stayed in the back of mind my. I would always wonder, “what Ester Drang was up to?”. It was kind of strange. There are not a lot of bands I see live that stick with me for years down the road.

It’s could have been the awkward stage presence of singer Bryce Chambers . It could have been the sweltering heat outside. But, most likely, it was their amazing melodies, and their fresh take on the shoegazer genre.

A few years have past, and the band in question has produced a few albums. They have changed their sound with each release, but not in an attempt to ride the next wave. But rather, they were seemingly always looking for a new sound to keep their fans on their toes.

With the bands third album (second full length) they have gone from attempting to create a new sound, to perfecting it. Infinite Keys finds the band at their most refined, their most mature… and it finds a new home with the Jade Tree label. I got the chance to put a few questions to Jeff Shoop (Guitars/Synths) while the band was on tour with label mates Pedro The Lion and with Starflyer 59 .

Jake Haselman – You guys have changed a lot over the past three albums, has it been a natural change, or was this by decision?

Jeff Shoop – I would say a bit of both. There was never a master plan of arriving at this sound of ours, I think that has been a natural progression. At the same time, we are conscience of not wanting to make the same record over again.

JH – How did you guys go from Burnt Toast to Jade Tree?

JS – Someone jade tree trusted sent them a copy of Goldenwest and they dug it, and emailed us we talked a few times but it never worked out for them come see us play. We sent them a few demos of new songs and they dug those and that was essentially that. It all came together really quickly, then we didn’t meet anyone from the label until SXSW 4 months after we signed.

JH – Does the bigger label bring more stress on the band?

JS – I don’t feel stressed….it’s sorta nice they do a lot of work and free us up to largely just play music.

JH – Do you think being on Jade Tree will give you more ‘cred’ right of the bat with new listeners?

JS – Maybe. I guess there is a better chance of someone giving it a try just because it has the tree on the back. They’ve spent many years developing their credibility…. so, yeah

JH – Do you think David Bazan made the road from ‘small Christian audience’ to ‘big indie label’ easier for bands like you?

JS – I guess. We don’t try to concern ourselves with segregating audiences
Our music is for everybody. I think Dave feels the same way.

JH – Who do you hate to be compared to?

JS – I only dislike comparisons that are used as an easy write-off. Like bands that have a piano and singer getting compared to Ben folds. It’s just lazy. So if someone has a good reason for a comparison then I promise not to hate you…probably

JH – How hard is it to translate your new, broader sound to a live show?

JS – Takes a bit of head scratching just to figure out who should be playing what and what sort of technology should be employed to create it. Then it keeps you busy, but it’s not bad.

JH – Is it just you four out on the road? You don’t take any extra musicians along on tour do you?

JS – It’s just the four of us now. On this tour we have had Casey from Pedro The Lion play some extra percussion, but that just sort of happened. We don’t have immediate plans to take anyone else, but it could happen in the future.

JH – Was it important to have ‘live’ strings instead of just keyboards? And did it make writing more difficult?

JS – Yeah we wanted those to be as organic as possible. Money becomes an issue, but we like to keep the real sounds real and the more electronic sounds electronic for a better contrast. I guess you could think of it as the McBLT container – keep the hot side hot and the cold side cold…until you figure out that Styrofoam is bad for the environment.

JH – What is the worst thing about touring for you guys?

JS – Lotto tickets. Days off with nothing to do. Long drives. Waiting.

JH – Do you feel confident enough to headline a tour, or do you still feel more comfortable in an opening role?

JS – Confident in playing sure. It’s just we want to spend some time playing for as many people as possible so they’ll come back when we come through headlining.

JH – What do you want listeners to feel after hearing the new album?

JS – Maybe a few mixed reactions – relaxed, yet challenged / reflective, yet hopeful.

JH – You guys have been around for a while… do you see a blurring off the line between the Christian indie scene and ‘mainstream’ indie?

JS – Again, our music is for everyone. So yeah, I suppose. I think it ought to be just fans of music regardless of belief systems. Because no matter where you go you probably wont totally agree with everything another person thinks, so why shut yourself off from sharing and experiencing?

JH – That seems to be a problem in today’s music scene though, don’t you think?

JS – Yeah, preconceptions from any angle are pretty foolish, yet prevalent. People don’t want to give things an honest chance before forming some sort of opinion about them – but I guess that speaks to much bigger social problem than just music.

JH – Who are some of the artists you guys look up to?

JS – Lots of people for different things. So any list of mine would not be exhaustive. But completely off the top of my head I dig – Neil young, Marvin Gaye, The Verve, The Roots, Brain Wilson, George Harrison, Talib Quali – I have no idea?



Ester Drang

A gauzy, daydream atmosphere surrounds Infinite Keys, the second album by Oklahoma’s little-known Ester Drang. When taking in the shuddering buildups and cloudy softness of the opening “The Temple Mount,” it’s hard to believe that the band’s first album was reportedly a lot vaguer and sleepier. Throughout Keys, instruments grandly blend together, suddenly swell in and out of focus, and reappear like specters, making it all the more difficult to get a handle on exactly what’s happening. Bryce Chambers’ morose, moody singing recalls Thom Yorke, but his voice often functions as just another sound in the soupy mix, buried in blurry effects nearly past the point of recognition. This is a band to simply sink into, which is what must’ve happened to the folks at Jade Tree, who signed Ester Drang after hearing nothing more than a mere demo. That tidbit alone should speak volumes about Keys’ weird allure. (D.W.)

7:30pm. $8. With Pedro the Lion + the Stratford 4. All ages. First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St. 800.594.8499.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

For the follow up to 2001′s widely-touted "Goldenwest" and a move to Jade Tree, Ester Drang’s founding frontman Bryce Chambers has initiated a new lineup, but his group’s lush and experimental approach to indie rock remains unchanged. Home state legends the Flaming Lips continue to have some influence the Tulsa, Okla.-bred Drang, but "Infinite Keys" finds Chambers, bassist Kyle Winner, guitarist Jeff Shoop, and drummer/pianist James McAlister pumping vibrant new life into a shoegazer sound left for dead a decade ago.

The dreamy, skilled sound collage of strings and guitars found on "The Temple Mount" creates the mood of the set, easing into the intricate, jazzy pop of "Dead Man’s Point of View." Chambers’ vocals — often resembling the range of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke — sound ideal on "Oceans of You," where a spacey sadness gives way to a guitar rock attack akin to the bulk of "The Bends."

Glistening 4AD bands like the Pale Saints and the Cocteau Twins come to mind as the lilting "One Hundred Times" plays out, soon giving way to the lovely and heartfelt pop of "The Greatest Thing." Although the piano touches accenting "No One Could Ever Take Your Face" are distinct, it’s a sluggish exercise among the eight other high caliber tunes here.

"I Don’t Want To Live (In a World of Infinite Keys)" is as desperate as it is intricate, even boasting a flute solo. Buried treasures like the uplifting, McCartney-influenced "If They Only Knew" and the brilliant "All the Feeling" — complete with dueling xylophone and piano — assure that Ester Drang is much more than a mere shoegazer revival outfit.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

Goes Well With: Dark Side of the Moon, OK Computer, making out with your significant other

Ester Drang’s latest, Infinite Keys, is infinitely pleasing—a competent ambient rock record that evokes solace. Occasionally sandblasted with energetic pseudo-rock, the album is thankfully absent of anything annoyingly aggressive. As with so many vocalists nowadays, Bryce Chambers’ crooning can clearly draw comparisons to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke in that both warblers’ tones improve the quality of the music. Throughout, Ester Drang offers mature musicianship, blending keys and guitars into melodic arrangements that carry you like so many puffy, little clouds.

On “Oceans of View” the band cranks up the EKG rating: alternating from smashing cymbals to hypnotic bass lines, the song proves this pony’s capable of turning more than one trick. This is the record that compliments a late night glass of red wine, the first glass poured during cerebral conversation, the last poured during a kiss partially inspired by your savvy music selection.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

Legend has it that Oklahoma-based psych pop quartet Ester Drang signed to Jade Tree Records on the strength of their demos, if the band’s press kit is to be believed. And while that’s a little like being the best bullfighter in Alaska, it certainly doesn’t lessen the fact that Ester Drang’s Jade Tree debut Infinite Keys is a beautifully crafted, lush addition to the indie pop canon.

The band, and especially lead singer/guitarist Bryce Chambers, tends to wears its influences on its sleeve. The most obvious description of Infinite Keys is that it sounds like Wayne Coyne collaborating with Radiohead to record Wilco’s Summerteeth . In fact, the spectre of fellow Oklahoman and Flaming Lips frontman Coyne looms large over many of Infinite Keys ‘s tracks. Album opener "Temple Mount" opens with a low engine rumble, preparatory violins, a doom-tinged guitar, and finally Chambers’ ethereal voice. It’s a recipe that is repeated on nearly every track, but to the band’s credit, they do it well.

It takes a moment to lock into Ester Drang’s orchestration, but one you’re keyed (sorry) into Chambers’ vision, the music washes over you and it’s simply thrilling. While less sprawling than Goldenwest , their 2001 space rock debut, Infinite Keys is still chockablock with moments of grandeur. To wit, Jeff Shoop’s piano finds its way into "Temple Mount", and the song soars like a plane flying over the Grand Canyon in an IMAX movie. The jazzed-up horns on "Dead Man’s Point of View" pop up and leave as quick as they entered. Meanwhile, watery guitars wash over the appropriately titled "Oceans of You". These songs are so thick and lush one practically needs a machete to navigate them. If only the vocals could keep up with the instrumentation.

The band has a knack of well-crafted pop, in addition to the expansive stuff (a la the aforementioned Wilco). "One Hundred Times" approaches straight-up pop and (features a killer sweeping guitar solo) before giving way to the jangly "The Greatest Thing", which unabashedly cribs from the Flaming Lips’ Clouds Taste Metallic (again with the Coyne). Chambers’ fuzzed-out, whiny-but-warm vocals never come closer to Coyne than they do on "The Greatest Thing". Lips-prints are all over "If They Only Knew", too. With its pastoral guitar coupled with bleeps ‘n’ bloops, pianos, and violins, it’s comes across as "It’s Summertime" redux (from the Lips’ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots ).

Infinite Keys ends strong with the quasi-title track "I Don’t Want to Live (In a World of Infinite Keys)", which has instrumentation so compelling and epic, it’s almost a letdown when Chambers’ vocals arrive. The song also brings into focus an important point about Ester Drang. For all the bells and whistles (sometimes literally) in the band’s kitchen-sink approach to indie chamber pop, never once do they collapse into cacophony. Other bands (again, Wilco and Radiohead) are lauded for their ventures into musical entropy, and deservedly so, but let’s give props to Ester Drang for holding their gorgeous songs together.

So where does all this leave us? Between Ester Drang, Flaming Lips and the poppier-but-similarly-minded Starlight Mints, there must be something in Oklahoma’s water supply that inspires lush, off-kilter indie rock. And more to the point, Infinite Keys finds in Ester Drang a band tightening its focus, while losing none of its beauty and expressiveness.


For those in the Tulsa, OK area, ESTER DRANG will be celebrating the release of their Infinite Keys CD (JT1082) with a show at the Westby Theatre on April 17. Please read below for all info.

ESTER DRANG with guests Majnun and Tim Miser at the Westby Theatre in Tulsa, OK, located at 2nd and Detroit.
$6 in advance, $7 at door

Tickets available at:
Seasick Records or at Seasick Records in Tulsa at 15th and Harvard

Also, check out yet another positive review of Infinite Keys here:

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

I’ve been a fan of Ester Drang for some time now. My first intro to the band was a live show at an outdoor fest. It was hot, I was sweaty and nasty (having not showered for a few days in the middle of summer will do that do you), but I still drug my self over to the equally smelly tent. From the first notes that rang out, I was transported to a different place entirely. A dream state between white noise and lush scenery.

While they have changed quite a bit since that hot summer day in 97’, the essence of the sound remains. Ester Drang have grown up in more ways than one. Not only have they grown up in years, but they have also matured immensely in their song writing abilities. With Infinite Keys (the bands second full length) these Oklahoma boys have stepped past the realm of shoegazer that they started out in. They have fully traded in the feedback soaked melodies of their first EP (That is When He Turns Us Golden), and have honed the ‘adult’ sound they first attempted on their last full length (Golden West). This is definitely their best work to date.

I know that it’s easiest to describe bands, especially bands people might not be familiar with, by comparing them to other bands. Honestly, I don’t think it’s fair in this case. Everyone will draw the obvious comparisons to Radiohead and Spiritualized, but I don’t think it does the band justice. Those bands have achieved so much in their careers; they have most everyone’s respect and admiration. To place a band’s second full length, and for all intensive purposes the first album most people have heard, up to those standards is a disservice to any band.

If you like lush melodies, and like them to ring through clean instrumentation, this is going to be something that will trip your trigger. There is not much more I can say about it. It’s a well-done album, produced as though they had a million dollar budget, and the songs are the strongest these guys have done yet. Fans of music you can get lost in will need to give Ester Drang an ear. If you like for your music to create intimate settings, and push feeling to the foreground, this might be something to search out. Two words, “Get It!”

Oh, one more thing… if you can listen to “If They Only Knew” and not think it’s one of the best songs released this year… well, I feel sorry for you.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

Delaware record label Jade Tree continues to put out albums that diverge from the emo tag they were slapped with a few years ago. The latest, Ester Drang, hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the same hometown of Hanson, but their music recalls the work of Mogwai or Radiohead more so than that sweet, young-thing pop trio. There is an introspective sound on the Infinite Keys that ebbs and flows, at once verging on improvisation only to crash back towards structure and a previously introduced melody. Moody shoegazers take note: it seems someone else out there understands your pain.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

While Ester Drang may not have discovered the full extent of their experimental side, like fellow Oklahomans the Flaming Lips, they have managed to continue on the journey they started with their 2001 debut Goldenwest. And they’ve never sounded better. Like so many other bands at the moment, Ester Drang embrace the swooping soundscapes that were once favoured by Swervedriver and Sianspheric and their ilk. There’s also a healthy dose of The Bends-era Radiohead thrown into the mix too. Infinite Keys manages to avoid many of the pitfalls that other similar records end up in thanks to shorter songs which keep the meandering to a pleasant minimum. That doesn’t mean that the songs don’t have enough time to build up and shift moods because somehow Ester Drang have managed to make a 40-minute album that feels longer. But in a good way. The production does feel a little too lush at times though, with the string section in particular bordering on overwhelming the proceedings on occasion. Still, for the most part, Infinite Keys is a very good album and a welcome addition to Jade Tree’s roster.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

Infinite Keys is wonderfully orchestrated melodies conveyed with a beautiful array of instrumentation that’s a custom of Ester Drang: drums, bass, guitar, Fender Rhodes, various percussion, strings, and other samples and keyboards.

Don’t think it to be mundane, however, as their Jade Tree debut is a more focused and arresting set of songs. They’ve created haunting cinematic soundscapes that wash over you as dramatic moods lull and inspire.

With Infinite Keys , Ester Drang have proven once again that they are most deserving of your attention.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

Nebraska has seen its fair share of quality indie acts making the pages of many a music magazine as of late, with all of the Saddle Creek bands blowing up (Bright Eyes, the Faint, Cursive, Rilo Kiley). But just a little bit south and to the left of the radar lie Oklahoma and Texas, which have been stating thier cases long before this crew gained a shred of attention. Think the Flaming Lips. Think Spoon. And more recently Trail of Dead, The Gloria Record, Explosions in the Sky, the Starlight Mints, the Polyphonic Spree… Well, get out the chalk and make another mark on the base of the oil tower ‘cause there’s another one from the Southwest that’s comin’ out of the woodwork.

This time they’re called Ester Drang, a four-piece out of Broken Arrow, OK, who are just doing their part to continue this recent tradition. While they might not garner as much critical praise as Omaha-native Conor Oberst has and will continue to do, they are still making quite a name for themselves with this, their second full-length and first release on the Jade Tree label, entitled “Infinite Keys.” It also helps that they’ve been rubbing elbows on the road with the likes of Pedro the Lion and American Analog Set.

The band earns my respect for producing the album on their own, but this time around they’ve enlisted the help of Chris Colbert on the mixing board. You may recognize that name or at least some of his previous credits. Colbert’s been at the helm of more than one notable record, including but not limited to the Lassie Foundation’s Pacifico and the Prayer Chain’s Mercury, a couple of my personal favorites. More recently, he’s worked with Zachary Gresham’s Summer Hymns and Elf Power. Colbert is a former member of the late-80s’ Breakfast with Amy and the 90s’ Duraluxe, as well as having helped to sculpt albums by Morella’s Forest, Joe Christmas and the Billions.

All this talk about Chris C. is not to take away from what Ester Drang themselves have brought to the table with this one. I only mention it to point out that after working with all these bands, Colbert was asked in an interview with what some of his favorites were. The first thing to come out of his mouth was, “I’m really proud of my mix on the new Ester Drang, [Infinite Keys]. A great record”. And he’s absolutely right. It is a great record.

After cultivating their sound for eight years now, have come up with an album that’s quite beautiful, equally haunting and yet gorgeous. It induces daydreams. It causes everything around you to disappear. It’s an expansive canvas for you to paint over with your imagination.

It would be quite difficult to evaluate each track on this album, or at least to highlight the ones that stand out. Because I don’t know if any of them do that very much at all. Don’t get the wrong idea here. In many cases, this could be viewed as a liability, but in this case it could be viewed as a great asset. The songs all gel together to form a wonderful whole, without getting boring. Some lull you to sleep. Some make you want to reach for the heavens. One makes you feel like your stretching backwards on a bed of clouds. The next makes you feel like you’re soaring and weaving through them. At some point, you may feel like you are slowly sinking to the bottom of the ocean. At another point, you can picture yourself being tossed against the shore alongside a torrent of foam. The album actually ebbs and flows much like the sea.

In order to create this cascading deluge of sound while holed up in a Denton, TX studio for 10 days, the band utilized a slew of equipment (as noted on their website): several sets of drums, four Fender amps, a loud bass amp, guitars, basses, a sampler, a Rhodes piano, a mini-Korg keyboard, a wurlitzer, and a vibraphone, all pushed through what seems like an arsenal of effects pedals and computer software. Add to this a string quartet and it’s no surprise that this album sounds so dense and encompassing. Oh, let’s not forget one of the bands most valuable instruments either. That would be Bryce Chambers’ voice. I don’t want to come off sounding metrosexual or anything (I know, I know – I’m kidding), but his voice is quite breathtaking and beautiful.

It took some time to notice, but after listening to Infinite Keys quite a bit, I finally began to recognize some referential similarities. On “One Hundred Times”, for instance, I can quickly call to mind Radiohead’s floating-above-the-earth’s-surface “Exit Music (For A Film)”. It actuallys seems pretty obvious throughout this album that the Drang are big fans of OK Computer-era Radiohead. Other times I recalled Mineral’s End Serenading. Ester Drang don’t really sound like Mineral at all (more like TGR); they just stir up the same kind of feelings I get when I listen to that record. There’s probably not many out there that will get this next comparison, but they also remind me of a small Hendersonville, TN band I was fortunate enough to uncover a few years back called Harmonium (sp?), who happened to be big Spiritualized fans.

Anyway, at no point did I think that these guys came off as a ripped off imitation of any of these bands. Like I said, it took some time for me to figure this out. Instead, any respect they may have for these groups has simply been used as one small ingredient that they’ve incorporated into their grandiose recipe. This album is all their own, and I’d be damned proud of it if I were them. It’s divine.

score: 8.0 out of 10

reviewed by: Brett.Andrew.Miotti

‘Bout time this band got some more attention in the indie rock world. "Infinite keys" is this Oklahoma quartet’s debut for Jade Tree Records. This isn’t much of a departure from the band’s last full length on Burnt Toast Vinyl, however the majority of the songs on this newest disc are a bit shorter and more formulaic than it’s predesessor.

This isn’t a bad thing, but some fans may be surprised by the change in song lengths. At any rate, ester drang still create beautifully layered landscapes of sound. Attached to lazy beats that make your head bob you’ll find bass, guitar, rhodes and the occasional spattering of saxophone or instruments not included in the band’s standard arsenal.

The disc starts off with the almost chaotic sounding "temple mount" then from there steadies itself on a path of melancholy/dreamy atmosphere. Lyrically the album seems anchored around the band’s spiritual beliefs without coming off as Jim Bakker-esque.

[B]Ester Drang[/B] [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review


Web Exclusive

Blending an ethereal space-like ambience with lush, layered guitars, Tulsa natives Ester Drang draw upon the shoegazer aesthetic. Infinite Keys gracefully moves with a solid direction that was missing from their epic-driven 2001 debut Goldenwest, giving a near flawless presentation. Electronic textures ebb and flow around soft acoustics while Bryce Chambers’ boyish vocal charm echoes the Ocean Blue’s Dave Schelzel, particularly on the bittersweet "If They Only New." "No One Could Ever Take Your Face" and "All the Feeling" evoke a quirky familiarity similar to their Oklahoma neighbors the Flaming Lips. From the shadowy, avant-jazz tinged "One Hundred Times" to "Dead Man’s Point of View"’s crystal synth beats, Ester Drang have created a delightfully tailored dream-pop album.


ESTER DRANG’S Infinite Keys CD (JT1082), which will be released on April 1, is reviewed in the upcoming April issue of Chart magazine. Check out the review below.

ESTER DRANG Infinite Keys (Jade Tree)
Delaware record label Jade Tree continues to release albums that diverge from the emo tag it was slapped with a few years ago. Its latest band, Ester Drang, hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, hometown of Hanson, but their music recalls the work of Mogwai or Radiohead more so than that sweet pop trio. There is an introspective sound on Infinite Keys that ebbs and flows, at once verging on improvisation only to crash back towards structure and a previously introduced melody. Moody shoegazers take note: it seems someone else out there understands your pain.

Go to for more information.

Ester Drang [I]Infinite Keys[/I] Review

I imagine there are big ol’ skies in Oklahoma. Though I’ve never been there, I associate the labor-conquers-all state with ridiculously wide expanses of blue that at times seem oppressive in their beauty. I can only assume these atmospheric conditions, though: I’ve not been to Oklahoma, only its neighbor Kansas, and that state is endless from one side to the other. I was on one road during my entire drive through the state, but as I looked left and right I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or let myself fall apart at the site of so much repetition made real.

So in the spirit of full disclosure, you should know now that I wrote this review with a sleeveless promotional CD and had no idea that the cover art for Infinite Keys is in fact a photograph of a blue sky over a green field. I only saw that afterward. And though it does make me want to trust my instincts– maybe go into graphic design as a second career?– it had no bearing on the review as written. Onward:

Ester Drang are a five-piece from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and seem to be writing music based on cloud formations. I imagine them waiting patiently for a patch of white to explode, for a break in the otherwise steady weather, allowing them a chance to experiment with dynamics in response. Since 1995 they’ve put out a single, a now out-of-print EP, and last-year’s somewhat lauded LP Goldenwest on Burnt Toast. With each release they’ve been charting a pretty straight path toward Infinite Keys, their first full-length for Jade Tree. And here, in the present, the preordained Ester-Drang cosmology doesn’t shake much.

From the first to the final fade, the music is a whisper. Each piece washes in dusty sheets, as though the band is literally assigning particular notes and durations to patterns in the sky. If that were the case, it could end up as a form of environmental music like the work of Chicago sound artist Collin Olan who, for example, inserted two contact microphones into a block of ice, submerged the block in water, and recorded the sounds it made as it melted. I like that– I like theory– but I can’t invent intentions for Ester Drang and, ultimately, they don’t seem to have such lofty or eccentric goals. I think, really, they really just kind of dig Radiohead. Or a section Radiohead as re-interpreated by The Gloria Record. Here and there, I’ve read comparisons to The Flaming Lips, and I don’t get it. Though they share the same home state, and in the past collaborated with Steven Drozd on a single, the folks pushing Ester Drang as participants in some kind of Oklahoma-grown sound are stretching things to fill an easily processed critical canvas.

"One Hundred Times" is where they’re most openly taking from Radiohead; it’s also when the stock elements of their wistfulness gel temporarily. The vocal lines cascade and plummet, little bleeps and buzzes make sense in relation to the overall density of the music, and, more importantly, there are enough pauses, build-ups, sputters, and redirections to make you feel like you’re flying somewhere, leaping over your mundane town in a single bound. "Oceans of You" is the indie-rock version of Coldplay, shouting gracefully about "problems" fading. Incandescent shit– I can imagine them performing this with an orchestra at the Grammys: lights flicker, the orchestra blows a fuse (some dude passes out in row one!), and as I watch from my living room floor I wonder if I’m supposed to feel something. The music is pretty– it’s difficult to deny that– but so are the sounds of cars driving by your house at 4AM, or how the world muffles a bit when you put your ear up to a puddle.

When your music is light and airy, you need to make sure it’s compelling. While Radiohead are often bogged down by over-ambitious themes, they’re at least constructing a poetics of experimentation, as well as a cogent if somewhat scattered message beyond their plush walls of sound. All I can cull from this music are empty exercises in pseudo-orchetral ear candy. Which is fine to a point: Sigur Ros (an easy comparison) move people to tears without the majority of their audience comprehending a single word of their lyrics, and like Ester Drang, they aren’t exactly breaking new ground. Unlike Ester Drang, their stuff is a gale of goddamn triumph; Infinite Keys rumbles by like a draft through a cracked window, a tiny shift in the atmosphere, leaving only the vaguest of impressions.


Oklahoma’s ESTER DRANG has joined the Jade Tree roster. The band will be releasing their second album and Jade Tree debut, Infinite Keys CD (JT1082) on April 1, 2003 (Available for pre-order February 4, 2002). Vinyl for Infinite Keys will be available through .

Infinite Keys is cinematically inspired and atmospheric, a spectral wall of sound that reaches out in several directions at once without losing its central focus, emanating a feeling of timelessness that melds well with its psychedelic elements reminiscent of SPIRTUALIZED, GRANDADDY and fellow Oklahoman’s THE FLAMING LIPS.

Infinite Keys is being recorded at Echo Labs and mixed at Soma (WILCO, STEREOLAB) by Chris Colbert (NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL, ELF POWER).

ESTER DRANG has toured with PEDRO THE LION, STARFLYER 59 and DENALI and has shared the stage with THE WHITE STRIPES, WHEAT and THE STARLIGHT MINTS to name a few. Infinite Keys is definitely recommended for fans of all of the aforementioned bands, as well as a wide variety of artists including MY BLOODY VALENTINE, THE BEATLES, RACHELS, MARVIN GAYE, BRIAN ENO, SLOWDIVE, PHILLIP GLASS AND FUGAZI.

MP3: (From Ester Drang’s last release, Goldenwest, available on Burnt Toast Vinyl)


1. “Temple Mount”
2. “Dead Man’s Point Of View”
3. “Oceans Of View”
4. “If They Only New”
5. “All The Birds Live In My Attic”
6. “No One Could Ever Take Your Face”
7. “The Greatest Thing”
8. “All The Feeling”
9. “One Hundred Times”
10. “I Don’t Want To Live (In A World Of Infinite Keys)”