Esmerine: Lost Voices (3 stars)

Esmerine: Lost Voices

Fifth album torn between minimalism and stridency

On their fifth album, Montreal’s minimalist post-rock / chamber-music ensemble both broaden their instrumentation and enlarge their sound. Not only has the quartet now expanded to a five-piece, with touring bassist Jérémi Roy making his studio debut, but the core members are bolstered by an array of guests, including violinist Sophie Trudeau (of Godspeed you Black Emperor) and guitarists James Hakan Dedeoglu, Jace Lasek and Constellation co-founder Ian Ilavsky.

This enhancement is evident in the climax of opener ‘The Neighbourhoods Rise’. It begins in a sparse, tranquil mode, almost reminiscent of gamelan in its deft, tuned percussion and hazy violin melodies, before rumbling drums and a bowed contrabass swell beneath fiery but elegant guitar noise. Later, the rambunctious ‘19/14’, underpinned by a captivating rhythm and robustly plucked double bass, offers a big, tricksy groove that blossoms into Turkish psych-style fuzz-guitar riffs.

Elsewhere, Lost Voices is largely still and minimal – there are the sedate, almost clockwork cycling motifs of ‘A River Runs Through This City’; the drifting abstraction and glimpsed poignancy of ‘A Trick Of The Light’; and the barely-there ‘Lullaby For Nola’, a glimpse of a half-remembered daydream, made of softly-stroked piano and barely perceptible washes, which makes the other tracks seem like death metal by comparison.

The clear high point comes with ‘Funambule (deus pas de Serein)’ – a strident, Balkan-style mid-paced stomp full of energy, fervour and abandon, made all the more powerful by its serene surroundings. And this illustrates the conundrum at the album’s heart. While the quieter tracks are beautifully composed and appealing, they are profoundly minimalist. No bad thing in itself, but they tend to fade into the background compared to the more forthright pieces. Yet it’s precisely this restraint that gives the louder material its gravitas. There’s not a single moment on here that isn’t lovely, but for the most part it makes the soul simmer – only sometimes does it soar.

Lost Voices is released on Fri 16 Oct on Constellation

Esmerine - The Neighbourhoods Rise

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