August 7, 2003
ESTER DRANG [I]INFINITE KEYS[/I] REVIEW
The party starts to wind down and everyone is sitting in lawn chairs around the bonfire. There are at least 3 "marijunana cigarettes" being passed around while everyone kinda just kicks back and gets their chill on. Conversation goes back in forth in a mild manner yet there is always one guy dazed out to the music behind him. That guy would be me today because Ester Drang is the soundtrack for our smokeout.
First question I ask when it's put on is "Whoa bro. What Pink Floyd cd is this? I've never heard this before." The reply "No man. This is Ester Drang's new cd. It's super chill brah." So I kick back in my chair once again and ignore the conversation that is passing back and forth amongst the crowd.
"Temple Mount" kicks it off with a wandering guitar that is backed up by an string section fairly quickly. When the string section builds up to a climax, the drums kick in and sweeping sound of keyboard keys are audible in the background of it all. The climax drops off and you are down to a vibraphone, guitar, drums, and bass. You know why this record is called Infinite Keys by the end of the song.
I drop into a fairly interesting conversation during the next song, which is an upbeat song titled "Dead Man's Point of View." The dialog switches from one person to the next as the mood of this song does, going from upbeat high pitched vocals to a slower beat and lower pitched vocals. The conversation doesn't last very long but I get out of it feeling incredibly pleased.
I kick back in my chair and take it easy for a bit until I catch a glimpse of this long haired, sandle-claden beauty wearing a pair of jeans and T-shirt that does it's job. Coincidentally, "No One Could Ever Take Your Face" kicks on right when my eyes set on her. The string section in the beginning plays as she moves the long hair from in front of her face and my infatuation kicks in. The acoustic guitar is the perfect backing as she walks perfectly in time with her feet touching the ground with each snare hit. She sets down next to me in a flimsy wooden chair that looks like it's from the early 1900's. We begin to talk and being the charming guy I am, I proceed to make her laugh. Her laughs weave in and out with the acoustic guitar, interlacing piano and vibraphone.
The night continues on with it's contrast of busy moments and incredibly mellow moments but never proves uninteresting the whole time. Sometimes when I review a cd, I give it a score I know is undeserving. Why do I do it you ask? Because I know that in my mind, it deserves it. This record clicked with me just as well as some of the greats of this year(Cursive, Songs: Ohia, etc.). I stand by this score and urge you to check these guys out.
On previous records, Ester Drang’s output had an epic feel to it; it was more drawn-out and atmospheric than that on Infinite Keys. However, the strength and rise-and-fall aesthetic seemed to be more of a focus on density than precise instrumentation. Even as 2001’s Goldenwest brought out more focused songwriting effort, the composition on Infinite Keys is leaps and bounds ahead of their previous efforts. Instead of increasing the complexity, the band has stripped down their sound to create a more ethereal and delicate delivery. Shorter songs and sparser production have acted as blank canvas for the band to develop concrete song structures, rather than what sounds like amorphous jamming.
Mentions of this Ester Drang’s similarity to other bands are abounding in every review, which, undoubtedly is because they are very apparent. The orchestral instrumental swells are tantamount to those of bands like Spiritualized and Mercury Rev and the gentle tones are similar to the sound of bands like Rachel’s and Japancakes. On “No One Could Take Your Face”, Chambers’ voice draws comparisons to Thom Yorke and on “Oceans of You”; it carries tinges of fellow Oklahoman, Wayne Coyne.
Well, with repetition of the same bands in reviews of Infinite Keys, it may bring about the use of the word “rip-off.” But with a list of such great bands that Ester Drang “sounds like”, they’re going to attract interest.
So, perhaps this is imitation, but its not blatant nor overbearing. Infinite Keys in a stylistic sense, is a mingling of the best elements of some of best modern bands. Of course, this takes points away from the record in that it, compared to the aforementioned bands’ actual albums, may just end up acting like between-releases-filler. So, if you need something to give you more of your Radiohead fix even after Hail to the Thief, or you want to see what The Flaming Lips would sound like collaborating with Spiritualized, check out Infinite Keys because Ester Drang come pretty close to pulling it off.
Scene points: 7.5/10
Scen Point Blank
Robby and Shane
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