Vinyl Corner : Espers ‘The Weed Tree’

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. Following on from our recent examination of Drag City’s new ‘Espers’ reissue, this time we take a look as their second longer player ‘The Weed Tree’.

The Music:

How to follow-up a perfect album? Do you try and make something even better? Well, that’s a fool’s errand at best – perhaps it’s simply wiser to make something different and hope it’s as good – or, better yet, let the music flow and see what happens. In Espers’ case, they opted to take the road less travelled and release a covers album as the sequel to their exceptional debut. 2005’s ‘The Weed Tree’ saw the group – now doubled in size from a trio to a sextet – reinterpret a series of cult favourites though their own singular lens. The tone is generally less troubled than the swirling darkness of their debut; their rendition of British folk classic ‘Rosemary Lane’ is undeniably pretty and their take on Nico’s ‘Afraid’ is downright gorgeous. ‘The Weed Tree’ isn’t without its undercurrents of disquiet, however; a ten minute rendition of Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Flaming Telepaths’ – for which the original is merely a starting point – quickly descends into walls of screaming, maddened fuzz guitar and wailing synths, any vestiges of folk delicacy long since gone. Perhaps inevitably, this collection of tributes and covers fails to fall together with the remarkable salience of their debut – or, indeed, the two self-penned albums that would follow it. Even so, there is a great deal here to sustain those willing to a take a trip over to the dark side of folk’s malleable sonic world.

The Pressing:

Just as with the new vinyl reissue of the first Espers album (which we covered here), ‘The Weed Tree’ has returned to shelves the world over courtesy of the great Drag City records. Original pressings have long been prized by the few who own them and copies commonly change hands for anything from £80 to £100, so this new lease of life for the album is both well-deserved and very necessary. As with the vast bulk of Drag City vinyl releases, a quick glance at the matrices reveals that this new edition of ‘The Weed Tree’ has been pressed by Record Technology Incorporated. That bodes well for the playback and general sound quality of this rerelease as RTI are one of relatively few pressing plants from anywhere in the world to offer an almost reliably excellent output. This, fortunately, is not one of the rare exceptions to that rule; as soon as the stylus hits the groove, the listener is treated to the sound of fastidiously clean run-in grooves that boast a low noise floor continued throughout the album. There were barely any imperfections – however minor – across the entirety of our copy of the record and the fidelity and sonics are every bit as impressive. The vocals are full, arresting and present; Meg Baird’s stunningly emotive vocal parts ring clear and true on this pressing, whilst Greg Weeks’ vocal contributions boast realism and depth. The arrangements likewise soar; this was clearly a well recorded album to begin with and, just as on Drag City’s reissue of the first Espers album, the sonics remain consistently impressive here.

The Packaging:

Clearly intent on placating collectors obsessed with even the finest details, this new Drag City reissue of ‘The Weed Tree’ is pleasingly faithful to the presentation of the original release, despite some minor differences. Just as with their reissue of the first Espers album, the art direction here is striking and Drag City have done it full justice, reproducing it with strong, vivid colours and sharp print definition. The barcodes for most Drag City releases are found attached to the shrinkwrap as stickers, which is naturally preferable to the alternative as it leaves the artwork free of imperfection. Oddly, they’ve chosen not to do that here and instead a small barcode is printed directly onto the back cover. This is also the case with the original release, so it’s hardly as though Drag City’s reissue is inferior in this (or, indeed, any other) sense but, even so, it seems like a missed opportunity for improvement over the original release that was passed over for some reason. That’s certainly a minor nitpick, however; this is still a really nicely presented release. A printed inner sleeve is included, presenting both an entertaining essay on one side and relevant credits on the other. It rounds off the presentation of this reissue nicely but, as per usual with these non-polylined paper sleeves, it doesn’t offer much in the way of protection for the record so we would suggest storing the LP in a polylined sleeve of your own.

Final Thoughts:

‘The Weed Tree’ may be the least revelatory of Espers’ four albums but that says more about the quality of their others than any deficiency found here. Indeed, it’s nothing short of an excellent album and it was certainly greatly in need of the reissue that it has finally received. A typically high quality pressing from RTI ensures that this great album can, at last, be enjoyed on vinyl in optimum quality.

Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!