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March 15, 2006

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Since 1995, the Oklahoma natives of Ester Drang have been trekking northward. The band's journey has extended to their tour circuit and side projects — percussionist James McAlister and guitarist Jeff Shoop are both featured prominently on Sufjan Stevens's Illinois — and to their passion for wider expanses of sound.

On Rocinate, the multi-instrumental trio throb toward a dreamscape at the edge of the world. Showcasing high-minded yet groove-oriented tracks ("Great Expectations," "Proustian Moments"), the album is atmospheric and amoebic like the Northern Lights. Throughout, there is a sense of heartfelt conversation, of witnessing something fantastic.

Sigur Rós–type melodic repetitions build over delightfully fuzzy, intricate breakbeats recalling the late-'90s work of fellow Okies the Flaming Lips. The overall sound is impossible to break apart. Yet singer and multi-instrumentalist Bryce Chambers's vocal drone lacks a certain oomph. Whether crooning "Come back tonight / Come back alive" or "I'm dying just to be with you," he never quite commits to the emotional pull found in the ballads of Brian Eno but also refuses to just speak his angsty mind. At best, he recalls Teenage Fanclub's noise-pop sweetness. At his worst, one wishes that the awesome trip-hop in the background would shine through. When it does — in "Caledonia" and "Smoke and Air" — tight interactions light up the dance floor and illuminate our nights.

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Ari Messer