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Saturday, 20 July 2013

ESP Summer - 'LP' (Perdition Plastics)

I guess at this point, now that 17 years have passed, we're unlikely to see another release from ESP Summer. There's probably not too many people clamouring for one either, which is a shame because this is a beautiful slice of perfect, simple pop. I'm a massive fan of Warn Defever and His Name is Alive, and not so much one of Pale Saints (though that's not for any reason, as what I've heard has sounded pretty good). This collaboration, as the name indicates, falls perfectly between HNIA's Mouth By Mouth and Stars on ESP albums - a period in which Warn threw off the shackles of his Cocteau-influenced early 4AD years and embraced warm, summery pop music. This has the feel of a Tall Dwarfs-style home recording, built around line-in electric guitars, some keyboards, and well recorded vocals. Ian Masters has a sweet voice which flies high over romantic, touching tunes like 'Golden Heart of the Year' and 'Web of Dream'; I imagine these songs were written pretty collaboratively 50/50 as there's a strong sense of Defever's hand, but with something slightly different at play. There's very occasional electronic moments, but they don't really get in the way - this is guitar-pop all the way, even when the vocals are drenched in reverb. In music like this, the simplicity is the charm - not that these songs are rudimentary or primitive, but the overall approach of this as a fun 'side project' carries through. There's no gravitas, but it's not throwaway. His Name is Alive is supposed to be Warn's brilliant songwriting with a beautifully-voiced female overtop, and for the majority of their tracks, it is; my other favourite Defever collaboration, New Grape, is also with a female singer. But it works here, cause Masters sings in a sweet tenor. Any one of these songs could appear on a His Name is Alive record, yet they don't turn up anywhere else -- Warn is notoriously reusing and reassessing old work, but ESP Summer stands alone. The 'ESP' supposedly did refer to the great record label, but there's not a trace of either Albert Ayler or Cro-Magnon here. Instead I recall the gentler side of the mid-90s American indie underground, the likes of which appeared on those Tiny Idols compilations. Part of being an HNIA fan is the pick-and-choose among the zillions of things Defever produces, but I'd wager that most people would put this pretty high on their shortlist of his greatest accomplishments.

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