Espers: II

Drag City

In Anaïs Nin's A Spy in the House of Love, her protagonist Sabina describes the curious sensations that result from nightly moonbaths: "Activated by moon-rays, [she] felt germinating in her the power to extend expand the journey to infinity...from that limitless night which we usually perceive only in our dreams." Whether or not the six members of Philadelphia's Espers take such dips, they are crepuscular creatures, who look as if they don't venture out much by day. A six-petaled black blossom represents them on the cover of their second full-length, and they worship Selene outright on the closing "Moon Occults the Sun," but the effects of moonbaths can be seen in their luminous emittance throughout.

On their debut, Espers showed a fine enough knack for the tantric male-female aesthetic (à la prime era Fairport Convention, Pentangle, or Jefferson Airplane), but the band has grown, not just beyond their roots as a freak-folk trio, but beyond their influences. Or rather, their tendrils now touch upon other forms. An acidic guitar solo bubbles up among the solemn chamber strings, harpsichord, and acoustic guitar of "Dead Queen." Needling frequencies accentuate fingerpicked balladry, and cellos brush up against the sludgy buzz of early-'70s electronic components. The sextet even counterbalances the tremorous yet foreboding "Widow's Weed" with a drum kick right out of "Black Sabbath."

Espers's folky exterior also contains a rivulet of black metal coursing underneath, imbibing both the genre's frozen-syrup velocities and its tendency toward gothic imagery. II bears titles that read like V.C. Andrews paperbacks—"Children of Stone" and "Dead Queen" (there's also a "Dead King" resurrected from last year's cover EP, The Weed Tree). Though they steer around such damaging earmarks as power chords and metal's burdensome gravitas, they somehow remain grave nevertheless. A majority of the songs slowly unfurl beyond the seven-minute mark, more opaque surfaces and skin-chilling drones rising up at every turn. Espers evoke an inevitable—perhaps occult—sort of horror movie soundtrack, as if George Romero's Pittsburgh-shot zombies were edging ever closer to Philly. Solemn and slow, Espers, too, creep onward through the black night.