For nearly the past year, For Esmé has been teasing listeners by releasing new songs and remixes every few months. It started with “Just Yet”, a lush and gorgeous synth-pop song. It reminded us of the soaring and emotive responses a song could elicit in a person. While the song pulses with a slight electronic beat, the band adopted a minimalist approach, demonstrating careful restraint and a downtempo sound to build the drama and emotions. “Just Yet” got us excited for what was next for the Toronto trio, whose sound recalled GEMS, COVES, and CHVRCHES.
They followed that up with the ’80s-influenced tune “You”. Frontwoman Martha Meredith’s hallow vocals are perfectly complemented by the stuttering synths and keys, which increase in intensity and pace as the song reaches it’s 5-minute point. Part Austra, part DEVO, part Karftwerk, and part of a new wave of electro-pop songs that has transcended the music scene. And this characterization also applies to For Esmé, whose new album, Sugar, has finally arrived.
The one noticeable, great element about the album is that the remaining 6 songs fill the gap between the divergence between the first two singles – the ethereal beauty of “Just Yet” and the intoxicating, club-buzz of “You”. “Be A Light”, the opening track on the album, personifies the balance established by For Esmé. A mid-tempo, electro-pop-rock tune that slowly builds but never quite goes over the top. Instead, the bass line (which is superb), synths, and keys intensify before being joined by strings at the song’s rock-opera-esque zenith. Meanwhile, Meredith repeats the line, “I’m going to rise above it all”, which is indicative of what the band is trying to achieve with Sugar.
“Selwyn” is an unexpected track. Slight and delicate, the song is the band at its most vulnerable with Meredith recalling a person of importance and asking what has happened. The strings return to add to the solemn mood.
“Make A Sound”, though, is more of what was anticipated with the album – a deep bass line, a catchy melody, and a trippy mood that guide the music. Lyrically, while Meredith repeats a number of clichés (“If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?”), it’s a clever take on questioning one’s relevance and existence. “The Same Thing”, too, is that fine balance, starting with an ethereal quality before building into a boppy, electro-pop number. It’s the one song on the album that emotes a wave of emotions – from the dreamy to the shimmering.
The closing track, “In The Night Air”, adopts a similar approach to the album’s opener – low-key, downtempo and echoing synths to create a stirring yet haunting atmosphere. But whereas “Be A Light” hints of something wonderful to come, “In The Night Air”, is a reflection of loss and frustration as Meredith sings, “I’m so sick of the sugar”. But the lyric could also be the defining words for the album and for what For Esmé is trying to achieve – an album that will captivate without reverting to the standard, sweet pop methodology, where electro-pop songs can be dark and hallowing yet stirring and moving. If that is the case, then For Esmé have unquestionably achieved their goal.
For Esmé are Martha Meredith, Dave Thiel, and Nathan Crook. Sugar is out now. Get it on Bandcamp.
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