12 November 2015

ESKA, by Eska

When I was given this album to review, I was in two minds. The idea of an electronica/folk/soul mash-up really didn’t fill me with joy and I approached the first listen through with some trepidation. After a couple of weeks, well, let’s say I am conflicted.

The album begins with ”This is How the Garden Grows”, and it’s a slow burner, all twangy guitar and maudlin lyrics, although it does give a good idea of where Eska is going with her vocal range. It’s slow beat, gentle accompaniment and hint of blues make it an easy listening track that is a good opener for what is to come.

”Gatekeeper” is another slow builder, with what is starting to become Eska’s trademark hiking vocals, low, then suddenly high for a couple of notes, then back down again. Not that it’s bad as such, just the high parts are a bit grating. It does get better once the marching drum work kicks in, as does a volume hike, with the power in her voice coming through loud and clear. I do like this track, even though she does veer from Macy Gray to Kate Bush at a couple of points and towards the fade out at the end.

Next is ”Rock of Ages”, slow rhythmic beats, and a base guitar that is subtle to say the least. The vocals are clear and crisp, soft yet defined, yet as the song builds up, the strength of Eska’s singing shines through. The song builds to a lovely conclusion, almost a celebration,  and is one of my favourite tracks of the album.

”Boundaries” is probably the folkiest of the songs on the album, the vocals are gentle, well suited to the minimalist instrument support, and it has a medieval tone throughout, especially when the harpsichord kicks in, and the ringing of a bell signals a slight change, where the vocals head back into Kate Bush territory. This is no bad thing, and the strings are the final touch. The fade out is simple, yet elegant.This is my favourite track, and dare I say it, one that is worth  buying the album for.

After the excellence that was ”Boundaries”, there is the playfulness of ”She’s in the Flowers”, beginning with a playful acoustic guitar leading to ligh, playful vocals that bely the seriousness of the lyrics. Again, Eska’s range is on show, and she manages to give the impression of belting this one out without actually sounding like she is belting out the song. It’s effortless and hypnotising, swirling guitar, and a happy, dance worthy beat that is both uplifting and thoughtful.

”Shades of Blue” is another playful, happy song that begins with a sitar and clapping, with Eska’s vocal lifting them further. With different instruments, you could actually believe this could hit the charts, it’s that mainstream in style. The 60’s vibe that takes the song half way leads to what I can only describe of mainstream early 90’s R&B, and it suits it very well. As an aside, it would have been perfect on a ”Buffy The Vampire Slayer” album, it’s got that feel. Well, that’s what I think, anyhoo.

”Heroes and Villains” begins with a bass guitar, sets the scene for the organ music that follows, very reggae like and made me immediately think of ”The Specials”. It has a Caribbean style, and once again, Eska’s vocal range is impressive, and not entirely OTT. Overall, the song screams 80’s

”To be Remembered” starts with sweeping, light piano notes, before heading into similarly light vocals, but here the old problem of vocal range comes into play. Eska just shows too much range, high, higher, back down again, the up, it’s like a Kate Bush powered vocal rollercoaster. And yes, too much if definitely a bad thing. By the end of the track, I was willing it to end. Plus the choir like backing is too saccharine.

”Dear Evelyn” is the A capella track. Now, whilst I am not averse to A capella style singing (and yes, I have been forced to watch Pitch Perfect!), this track does nothing for me. At all. It goes nowhere, means nothing to me, and has nothing to add to the album. It does give Eska a chance to show off that voice again, but still, no need.

”So Long Eddy” is a slow, melancholy track. At least, that’s the impression it gives before it kicks in a gear with the guitar, and then a slow drum back up. It does become more light hearted, but I think it’s the perfect track to end the album. And yet again, the woman can sing.

So, overall, I would say that the album is a good one, but it’s strength is also its weakness. Whilst the lady can sing, and her vocal range is immense, it’s also a tad uncontrolled, and I think that on a couple of the tracks, less if definitely more.

7 - This is good and well worth a check

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