Esmerine – La Lechuza

January 01, 1970

(Constellation)

 

www.ctrecords.com

 

With its elegiac third full-length, Montreal’s Esmerine makes the leap from intriguing
offshoot to compelling full-time entity. La
Lechuza
, the band’s first record in five years, finds the duo of percussionist
Bruce Cawdron (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and cellist Beckie Foon (Thee
Silver Mt. Zion) welcoming into the fold harp-player Sarah Page (The Barr
Brothers) and percussionist Andrew Barr (The Slip, Land of Talk, The Barr
Brothers). The resulting palette-expansion certainly fleshes out the record’s
nine compositions. Equally key, though, the added instrumentation provides the
necessary complexity to convey the emotional weight uniting these songs.

 

Dedicated to  — and
inspired by — all four bandmembers’ collaborations and friendships with
Canadian singer Lhasa De Sala, who died of breast cancer at just 37 on New
Year’s Day in 2010, the wistful undertow works best in the contrast between the
harp’s airy glissandos and the cello’s forlorn bottom end. Cawdron’s mallet
work on marimba and glock provides the rhythmic thrum, balancing between
Tortoise-like urgency (“Sprouts”) and a lighter, islands-flavored vibe
(“Trampolin”). Arcade Fire contributors Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson add to
the swirling opener “A Dog River” and the Spaghetti Western-flavored “Little
Streams Make Big Rivers,” while Patrick Watson (at whose Montreal home much of the record was
recorded) joins Page at the mic on “Last Waltz.” Watson’s falsetto also
highlights the LP’s stunning centerpiece, “Snow Day for Lhasa.”

 

But it’s the closer that neatly – and surprisingly– ties
everything together. The funereal pace of “Fish On Land” is built around hesitant
piano chords through which string squiggles and bowed marimba ebb and flow to
create a haunting soundscape. But when Lhasa’s
rich and earthy vocals materialize as though out of a dream-mist, the song – a
previously unreleased version Lhasa made with Esmerine’s
founding duo – renders the entire record into both a eulogy to Lhasa and testament to the
newfound creative relationships she inspired. 

 

It’s a defining moment for the newly expanded band.
Esmerine’s first two records as the Cawdron/Foon duo (with occasional guest
spots) were pleasing and promising but ultimately flawed records where texture
and style trumped songcraft just often enough that the LPs sometimes had an
antiseptic, under glass feel and read like a compendium of post-rock chamber
group genres; here’s our drone piece, the ambient track, the transcendent
crescendo, etc. Here, though, Lhasa’s
spirit suffuses these songs with an emotional core that takes Le Lechuza  to another level all together – one where the
music and subject matter meld into a spiritual and organic whole.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Last
Waltz,” “Fish on Land,” “Trampolin” JOHN SCHACHT

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