Minimus the Poet - E.S.O.
Record Label: self-released
Release Date: Nov. 3, 2009
When it comes to crafting original music sometimes ambition can be a stumbling block. Take for instance the nine-song LP E.S.O. from Baltimore's Minimus the Poet. From beginning to end this is a creative collection of experimental indie-folk that's both head-scratching and harried, unfocused and unabashed, rewarding and ruminative.
Minimus the Poet is the brainchild of Aaron Wold a musician who writes ambient acoustic folk that seems to head in all the right directions before yielding to an assault of sonic tricks, stacks of superluous drums and layers of unnecessary guitars. The brightest example of this is fourth track "Cross Your Fingers," which seems to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. A far more spartan arrangement could have definitely done the song better justice. The song actually follows a bare bones direction for the first three minutes as Wold sings in a haunting and ethereal manner over a spartan sonic landscape. The entire effort feels wintry and chilly and there's a subtlety at work here that's definitely original.
And then, for no particular reason crashing cymbals and thrashing guitar work leap out of the speakers at the three-minute mark. Certainly the band is going for dramatic effect here but the alarming jump feels incongruous and comes across as sonic histrionics. Now granted every album has its flaws, but the Baltimore trio implements this very same tactic on sixth track "Newborn," which starts acoustic and jangly but by the end becomes thunderous and cluttered. Of course all this would be allowable if the band hadn't charted this same course on album opener "The Winded One," which begins as a plucky, banjo-fueled bluegrass ditty before spitting its way into a din of cymbals, drums and guitars.
Oy. Hasn't the band ever heard the phrase less is more?
Those three headaches aren't the album's only problems. Other throwaways include the jangly, 70s retro vibe of "Et Tu, Babette," which bops along with promise and vitality but collapses under the weight of its own intentions; and the all-too-brief track "MN71 (pulse)," a Brit-rock sendup that has a nice movement and solid vocal command before ending far too soon. Oy. Why!?? Why in the world did the band choose to make such a promising song a gnomic tease?
No, E.S.O. is not a total disaster. In fact there are some triumphant moments, most notably, the sweetly affecting "Paperweights" and the placid album closer "Prelude." Layered over acoustic guitar, organs and bells, "Paperweight," is a chilly, gospel-influenced duet with singer Dana Alexandra that's tortured, desperate and heart-wrenching. The song has the kind of transcendent and timeless quality that could very well find placement in movie soundtracks and is arguably as gorgeous and aching as anything released this year. On a song like this the band's left-of-center vision shines and their inherent potential is clearly visible. The same can be said for the swampy backwoods cut "Crucible on Lake Lanier," with a winning piano line and lyrics that read like a Flannery O"Connor novel. Additionally, "Something's Not Right," is an inspired alt-country rocker with rousing movements, reaching vocals and a straightforward directness that might do well at college radio.
And so for all their stumbles, E.S.O. still offer something hopeful. The group definitely has the talent and assets to do something spectacular and the hallmarks of engaging indie rock are definitely present. The big test going forward will be to see whether or not the band clings to a wash of over-the-top sonic accents.
That seems to be the main problem with E.S.O. While layered vocals, an array of percussion and a liberal use of theremin are all noble endeavors, the devices don't really work if the arrangements are messy and overdone. Being that this band is a passion project and operating on a shoestring budget, one can't exactly knock the band for the poor production. But there have been plenty of projects released to date that have done far more with a lack of funds. Which raises the question, is the music hampered by the band's lofty ambitions? Considering the uneven nature of the work the answer is a resounding yes.