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September 12, 2011 | by  | in Arts Music | [ssba]

Spotlight: Esc

Ahhhh, Melbourne. Home to Lord of the Fries, Brunswick Street and a heck of a load of Kiwis who’ve recently mished it over for greener grasses (seriously, is EVERYONE moving there?).

And bands. In fact it seems that the number of bands it’s housing currently outweigh their native koala population.

Self-described ‘happy-noise’ act Esc hails from the vast, cultured plans of the Victorian capital. Like a lot of post-post punk bands, Esc has clearly taken on board the 80s guitar twangs brought to us by Joy Division (& The Smiths, alongside the usual suspects) – lead singer and guitarist Max Sheldrake even somewhat physically resembles Ian Curtis. However looks aside, Sheldrake actually sounds a heck of a lot like some Chris Knox and Shayne Carter hybrid love child, his tone and phrasing just screaming from the basement of post-Nun blues. It works well. Guitarist Milo Lou’s musical phrases swirl around the space in reverberant chromaticism, the drums vary from the depressive post-adolescent bass afforded by the toms, to the screeching of the crash cymbals. And they do it oh so well. Now, I tend to get blase when bands/whoever starts screaming over screeching guitars – it can often fall flat in the mix, however track ‘Anastasia’ demonstrates Sheldrake’s vocal ability to avoid cliche and still totally sound prominent in the mix, like a genuine ‘glass case of emotion’, or whatever.

If I’m being nitpicking and a member of the music police (…Sting, exclusive) the drumming could perhaps experiment with drum patterns on all his drums more and not rely so heavily on the cymbal – but to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with the straight and simple style executed by drummer Tom Smith. His patterns are still gauged with energy in all the right places and work in aesthetic tandem with Bonnie Knight’s dark and straight bass lines. I think this is where Esc differs from other post-punk bands: the energy, be it recorded in a studio or live still carries the same high-level intensity, which in my eyes is pretty crucial for the genre’s success. Okay, yes, any music’s success – but in Esc’s case the band members all carry this intensity to a standard which makes all this musical dark and twisty emotion believable and honest. It’s awesome.

One of my favourite ‘Esc-moments’ is in the break down in ‘Liable’ in which Sheldrake’s synthesised voice has been prolonged and is layered and layered to generate harmonies and vocal accompaniment not dissimilar from Thom Yorke wailing, over the cymbals crashing (yes, I know, I know, it’s just this thing I have about cymbals) – it makes so homogenous a the sound, and so clearly attributive to their influences while retaining a their own twist, they could be mistaken for a younger Straightjacket Fits.

There is a lot about this band that I like – they pull off post-punk without resorting to cliché musical formulas which are just masked with a crap-load of distortion because they either discovered Ibanez guitars at the age of 13 or now only listen drone metal after hearing Boris’ Pink (ps sorry Boris fans, I know Pink is a great album). Yes, Esc sound a lot like a Flying Nun love child who lives between the split homes of Thom Yorke and Joy Division, but I would be really interested to see what would happen if they became more electronically-inclusive and Smith took a My Disco/Phil Selway approach to his kit, treating the cymbals like less of a cover for more interesting beats. Esc are a high-energy, timbre-ically interesting, that tick all the right boxes and I believe that if they continue to experiment with post-production and space within their records, their music will be the kind that the next generation covet due to their limited release.

Recommended Listening: Everything on their soundcloud, particularly Anastasia, and Last Leaf Left.


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  1. Roxy says:

    I’m not wrohty to be in the same forum. ROTFL

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