ESPERS II (Drag City)

On their second long player, American ensemble Espers weave a dense, dark, gothic indie-folk that sounds a little like Spiritualized jamming with Fit & Limo. Their long songs don’t go anywhere much, but they’re mesmerising whilst they’re not getting there, all eerie sawing strings and defiantly slow-motion melodies. There’s little here that couldn’t have happened 35 years ago, but equally the way the instruments combine and intertwine suggests something borne of cumulative experience.

With its shards of piercing distortion and mantric repetition, the ghost of Godspeed You Black Emperor! hangs heavy over “Dead Queen” . “Dead King” melts together dark, droning synths and nails-on-blackboard strings to create a creepy, sinister aura of foreboding, and “Children Of Stone” is (or perhaps are) lost among chilly, tangled minor key thickets, taunted by piercing synth whistles. “Moon Occults The Sun”’s sawing, buzzing strings and keening vocals posit it as a long-lost Roy Wood outtake from the first Electric Light Orchestra album, until the arrival of some gloriously tactile Frippian guitar work, overlaid with ringing, suspended distortion. “Mansfield And Cyclops” is arguably the album’s most intricate moment, drawing on the widest palette of shades, and there’s an almost Floydian flashback during “Widow’s Weed” when a percussive explosion parts an ocean of cawing stringed instruments.

There’s no respite from “II”’s rigorous aesthetic, and elegant as its hooded processional undoubtedly is it doesn’t say much about anything of relevance to the here and now. Even so, there’s something almost punk about its defiant refusal to compromise, even as its songs stretch luxuriantly out towards the far side of eight minutes. It’s a courageous and interesting record.