In the week since posting my favorite CDs of 2005, I received many emails from friends and colleagues arguing the merits of some discs I erroneously omitted -- North Mississippi All Stars' Electric Blue Watermelon, Ryan Adam's Cold Roses, Nickel Creek's Why Should the Fire Die?, Matt Pond PA's Several Arrows Later, Architecture in Helsinki's In Case We Die, Mark Eitzel's Candy Ass, Queens of the Stone Age's Lullabies to Paralyze, Antony & the Johnsons' I Am a Bird Now, Devendra Banhart's Cripple Crow, even the Stones' A Bigger Bang. Some of them, I simply forgot.
Others I hadn't heard to prior to writing my column, so I couldn't add them to my list. These past few holiday weeks I purposely spent time with many of those discs and even discovered a few that I didn't know at all.
One disc that leapt to the top of the stack and constant rotation was The Weed Tree by Espers. This is music that I crave: psychedelic folk with loads of breath and acoustic depth and thought-provoking imagery. This is music filled with filigree electric guitar fills, feathery vocals, and succulent string embellishments. This is music combining the neo-folk flavor of Pentangle, the trippy lingo of Donovan's folk-pop explorations, and Nick Drake's tortured romanticism. Hailing from Philadelphia, this outfit started its journey back in 2002 as a trio with singer/songwriter Greg Weeks (vocals, whistling, recorder, synthesizer, percussion), Meg Baird (vocals, acoustic guitar, Hammond b-3 organ), and Brooke Sietinsons (acoustic guitar).
They released their wickedly atmospheric acid folk self-titled debut in 2004 on Locust Music. In October 2005 they released the seven-song EP The Weed Tree and continue the journey down the same path as their debut long-player. And while there is only one new Espers track on this effort, they cleverly co-opt some creatively choice cover material. From Durutti Column's "Tomorrow" to Blue Oyster Cult's "Flaming Telepaths" (from 1974's Secret Treaties) to Nico's "Afraid," one could imagine Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon) tackling this material if he lived in Surrey and not San Francisco.
My favorite is their adaptation of the traditional song "Black Is the Color" -- a song that Nina Simone owned for a long, long time. Here it's given a chilling cello, acoustic guitar, tambourine and bells reading with Mr. Weeks and Ms. Baird laying bare their souls.
Espers is a band to follow in 2006. Espers will be starting a California tour very shortly. I would suggest that if you're living or visiting the left coast in the upcoming weeks you catch up with this group.
Converge is the Word!
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!
I didn't realize that Greg Weeks (whom I know -- he used to write for The Big Takeover and we would huddle at Jack Rabid's parties and chat about "out" music) is in Espers, which I heard at the store and liked. Cool!