More than anyone, Devendra Banhart included, Espers should be looked upon as the proud parents of the neo-folk movement. (You thought we were about to say “freak,” didn’t you?) Even before their trailblazing 2004 debut album, guiding light Greg Weeks was toiling in the fields of psych-folk, absorbing as much as he could from the style’s past and applying it to the present. Together with Meg Baird, Helena Espvall, and the rest of the Espers crew, the man who had soaked up so much psych-folk esoterica that he could grow his beard just by thinking about it became a kind of musical Dr. Frankenstein, bringing the band of his dreams to life using the tools available.
Five years later, and three albums and an EP into their recording career, Espers have stuck to their guns while continuing to grow. In other words, they still occupy that dreamy, spacey, acoustic-based area triangulated somewhere between Pentangle, Vashti Bunyan, and the Incredible String Band. But despite its title, III is more than simply the next installment in a series.
No one will ever toss around adjectives like “peppy” or “sunny” to describe Espers’ sound. Deeply indebted to British psychedelia, prog, and folk-rock as it is, the band’s music doesn’t exactly lend itself to party mixes. That said, III is probably the lightest, least doomy record Espers has turned out thus far. Instead of an ashen cloud teeming with lightning, hail, and driving rain, III‘s weather report offers mildly grey skies at worst. At some moments, like the one on “Caroline,” where the band sings “Don’t you cry” amid gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar patterns and sparkling swoops of analog synth, one might even go so far as to describe the feeling as vaguely hopeful.
Most important, though, all the elements of Espers’ sound come together more seamlessly than ever before here. The quiet folk passages, the tender vocal harmonies, the acid-is-your-friend fuzz-guitar leads and prog-schooled swathes of synthesizer might have initially entered the collective Espers consciousness as menu items picked off a disparate batch of musty old albums. But by this point in the band’s development, those elements have been incorporated so naturally into the songs as to seem completely organic.