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January 20, 2006

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"What could be more simple than getting into a groove, sticking with it and seeing where it takes you? Lots of bands have had success with this formula and it's not hard to see why. People - even seasoned record reviewers - like what is familiar whether or not they are willing to admit it, and bands that play up those parts of songs that make listeners' stomachs flip-flop will always sell records. If something works in one part of one song, why not do it over and over? That's how musical genres are born, after all.

It's a good bet that a lot of fans of Ester Drang's sophomore record, “Infinite Keys” expected just that sort of complacence. “Infinite Keys” is absolutely chock full of the kind of melancholy moves that tug at the trigger fingers of the chronically morose, begging them to finish the job years of Morrissey records started. It is an overtly moody and darkly beautiful record. Ester Drang seemed poised to single-handedly reinvent the shoegazer movement in the United States.

And while there aren't a lot of major chords or poppy hooks in “Rocinate,” it stands apart from the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma band's previous efforts because of its concentration not on mood but precise songwriting and instrumental technicality. The musical ideas that popped up only to be muted by sultry blankets of sound on “Infinite Keys” have been explicated on “Rocinate.” Ester Drang has fully realized songs that may once have been left in their most basic form.

“Grave Mistake,” for example, is a tune that could easily have been a great song with simple half- or quarter note organ dronery. Instead, the tune is taken to another level with a more complex fingering that steps out of the background just far enough to be noticed before fading back into the shadows.

And yet there are times when enough is enough. The sparse piano and trumpet work on “Hooker With A Heart of Gold” balances the song's sometimes-overwhelming orchestral track. Though it starts off sounding overproduced, in its entirety the tune winds up being one of the best on the album.

Rocinate features more changes than its predecessors, too. All of this makes for a beautifully complex album that may be a little harder to digest than “Infinite Keys.” Chew slowly."

The Colorado Daily

Oakland L. Childers