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Ester Drang 


Wednesday, Feb 8 2006
Multi-instrumentalists James McAlister and Jeff Shoop, who constitute two-thirds of Ester Drang, spent much of the past year and a half recording Illinois with Sufjan Stevens, backing the lauded troubadour in concert, and no doubt lobbying Young Soofy to make their native Oklahoma the next subject of his "50 States" concept album series. The pair also found the time to link back up with Ester Drang frontman Bryce Chambers to craft this fine follow-up to 2003's sterling Infinite Keys. The trio is frequently compared to the Flaming Lips -- both for geographical proximity and a propensity toward sonic thickness and adventurousness -- yet whereas the Lips trade in quasi-psychedelic orchestral pop, Rocinate features similar components (strings, horns, quirky guitar bursts, creative electronics) stitched together to create, primarily, a rather twee version of '70s yacht rock. Check out the violins that hover hazily over "Come Back Alive" while the track gets its groove on with a compressed disco beat and a shoulder-shrugged bass line; the Ronstadt-esque cooing and subtle vibraphone that rub up against Chambers' smooth, double-tracked vocals on the swaying "Grave Mistake"; or the steel drums that intro the fluegelhorn-punctuated "Smoke and Air." In a different lifetime, Ester Drang was more of a dream pop/space rock outfit, and Rocinate is most engaging when the band merges its past and present, infusing "Caledonia" and "White Lies" with late-period Slowdive synth plinks and blurry six-strings until they sail right into the clouds.

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Michael Alan Goldberg


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