Ester Drang: Infinite Keys (Jade Tree, 2003)
Ester Drang‘s Infinite Keys is one of those cd’s that has grown on me. After initial thoughts of disappointment regarding this group’s third full-length (and first release in two years), I’ve come to appreciate the beauty and depth of Infinite Keys. It is often said that the cd’s that take a while to warm over their listeners have a more enduring impact on the listener. That is the case for some of my favorite cd’s, like The Prayer Chain‘s Mercury, The Choir‘s Free Flying Soul, and even Ester Drang‘s last release, 2001’s Goldenwest. However, with the freedom I have at somewhere cold, I am able to set my own agenda about reviewing cd’s, sans deadlines. This gives me the time I need to digest cd’s, and I’m able to make full and informed statements about how I feel about the music. Which leads me to declare that the depth contained in Infinite Keys can be seen as a weakness, because I’ve read more than one review by writers with obvious deadlines touting Infinite Keys as unremarkable or boring. Of course, depth in any recording is not a weakness, regardless of other reviewers’ inability to grapple with or understand it. Infinite Keys is indeed a work that breaks your heart, only to fill it again with hope, all through subtleties. Whether it be through Ester Drang‘s intricate guitar and key arrangements, the group’s longing-filled lyrics, or Bryce Chambers‘ mournful and world-weary voice (here tastefully mixed more prominently than on Goldenwest), or perhaps through a combination of these various factors, Infinite Keys packs an emotional punch that knocks the listener over. “Dead Man’s Point of View” is a great example of the interplay between Ester Drang‘s strengths as Chambers croons “You should’ve told me there’s a meaning” while pianos and guitars weave and dance around one another. Infinite Keys is a soul-searching affair, as the listener is is drawn in by the haunting and tender lyrics and music.
Which is not to say that Infinite Keys doesn’t have its dramatic moments that capture the listener’s attention. “Oceans of You”, with its powerful chorus, erupts as frantic drumming and guitar heroics snap the listener out of the dreamy mood set up by the songs more peaceful verses. Likewise, after a few minutes, “The Temple Mount” fragments into a thundering climax featuring crashing symbols and odd sounds. Yet, despite the moments of unbridled emotion, Infinite Keys find Ester Drang tinkering less with epic anthems and pseudo-improvisation (like they did on Goldenwest), and more with song structure and overall consistency. On Infinite Keys, the songs ARE songs, with highly detailed and intelligent melody structures.
Which leads me to the reason, perhaps, why Infinite Keys took so long to grow on me (3 months!). Infinite Keys doesn’t immediately impress the listener with loud crescendos, or insanely layered wall-of-guitar antics. Instead, with its consistent, mellower, space-pop-meets-slowcore moodiness, and its intricate melodies and delicate songwriting, Infinite Keys impresses the careful listener, to spectacular (and even highly personal) effect. Three months, for me, is a pretty long time to grapple with a cd, but Infinite Keys is worth the wait.
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