Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For today’s feature, we’re reviewing a cult classic finally back on the shelves after years of unavailability – the self titled debut by ’00s psych-folksters Espers.
Very few bands ever come close to realising their full potential; to crafting something that perfectly articulates all their art has to offer the world. Of the groups that do achieve this loftiest of distinctions, fewer still manage it on their first try. This is, without a hint of hyperbole, something that Philadelphian cult folk act Espers managed. Their 2004 eponymous debut is a flawless realisation of their vision; it’s an album to cherish – one that has something new to offer with every listen, no matter how many times it’s been played. Crafted at a point when the group were only a trio – they’d later swell to a sextet – this ethereal, immersive album envelops the listener in an intricate interplay between chiming acoustic guitars over which distorted, soaring, majestically warped fuzz guitars screech. The lyrics, for their part, flitter between the fragmented beauty of nature as it decays in autumnal shades, to disturbed ruminations sung with the lilting grace of a lullaby. It’s a heady, confusing, brilliant combination that collates into an album both utterly beautiful and darkly haunted. It’s a record that engages with a musical past of cult acid folk heroes – a nod to Comus here, a hint of Pentangle there – and, pivotally, it is not only as good as any of their albums but it’s just as singular and uncompromising in its vision.
In a world where major labels endlessly spew out unnecessary Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen reissues, it’s a welcome relief when an album genuinely in need of reissue finally returns to shelves the world over. Up until recently, the entirety of Espers’ compact yet essential discography had remained in a limbo of frustrating unavailability. It wasn’t all that long ago that Drag City put 2006’s ‘II’ and 2009’s ‘III’ back into print for the first time in years and now the time has come for their first couple of records to receive the same treatment. Both this album and 2005’s ‘The Weed Tree’ are freshly available once again – and not before time, either. With prices for original pressings far north of most peoples’ comfort zones, these reissues mark a welcome opportunity for those free of first pressing fever. As per usual with Drag City releases, their reissue of Espers’ debut has been done right; it’s a very clean pressing – which is especially important considering how quiet much of this album is. The noise floor is low across both sides, providing an intrusion-free listening experience bearing just a few disparate, minor crackles and nothing more. The sonics are no less commanding; it’s not entirely clear if this has been remastered or not but, either way, it sounds excellent and easily as good as any previous edition of the album. The guitars chime with all the precision and delicacy you’d want from an acid-folk reverie of ‘Espers’ irradiance, and the fuzz-drenched soloing roars with all the ill-tempered gumption you could ask for.
Packaging and presentation is fittingly attractive on this reissue; the gorgeous cover art is reproduced in full – and it looks fantastic. The precision and detail of the artwork is articulated through the sharp, well-defined print quality and the accurate colours. The sleeve is a normal width non-gatefold design but that’s only fair considering that this is a single LP release. The extremely valuable and scarce first pressing of the album does present it in a far more elaborate, hand-made package but, considering that copies of that version change hands for a cool £200, this slightly less elaborate but vastly more affordable reissue is more than welcome. Indeed, for ardent collectors and deep-pocketed purists the original releases’ heavy-duty hand-made gatefold sleeve will certainly always hold much allure but, for most, this high quality and attractive non-gatefold sleeve will certainly satisfy. A paper printed inner sleeve is also included, which the gives track listing and credits in a beautiful font, but – whilst this is obviously a welcome inclusion to the package – we would, as always, recommend inserting the LP into a higher-quality polylined inner sleeve.
This is an excellent reissue of a fantastic album. It comes not a moment too soon, with previous vinyl editions long, long gone by this point. Those yet to familiarise themselves with the wonderful, dizzying world of Espers have a treat in store and this new vinyl reissue of their debut is where they should begin.
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