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January 27, 2006

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"Not as quixotic as you might expect based on the title.

While lofty, romantic ideas definitely permeate the songs of Ester Drang’s third full-length album Rocinate, there’s none of the foolishness or impracticality in pursuit of those ideas that you might expect from an album named after a central character of Don Quixote. Maybe that’s why the band chose to hang the name of the album around the neck of the trusty horse rather than the misguided anti-hero of that novel. Whatever the motivation was, the 10 tracks of Rocinate twitter their way through a grandiose musical landscape populated with strings, groovin’ bass lines, horns, ?°»90s synth-drum beats, ?°»70s spy film and television theme song throwbacks, Coldplay-ish piano intros (“Valencia’s Dying Dream”), and moments of Pink Floyd-meets-Spiritualized-meets-The Beach Boys pop dreaminess. That’s a lot to fit into an album and occasionally the mixture becomes a bit dissonant, but for the most part the songs are quite solid and elicit a knowing nod in their direction from the listener.

The weak link in the chain that binds this album together seems to be the lyrics, which are never actually bad, but they do tend to be a bit bland (e.g.: “I can’t seem to / ever forget you” repeated over and over as the chorus of “Valencia’s Dying Dream”). Despite that small quibble, the last minute or so of almost every song is when you receive the big payoff with this album. In these waning moments, all of the instrumental elements bleed together in an expansive and massive melding of musicality that makes nearly every track worth listening to.

“Everyone is a Victim” stands out from the crowd with its slightly unconventional guitar riff and simple, moving chorus that comes across as sublime despite the somewhat critical lyrics. The combination of these elements delivers on the obvious attempted grandeur of the album and goes to show that this band can pull together a great song that moves beyond all the musical hoopla. I happen to think Ester Drang could have made fantastic instrumental soundtracks to sensual spy films in the 1970s, but even as a currently existing musical team creating ethereal tunes, they manage to provide an entire album that is expansive enough to garner some serious attention."

Transform Online

Kyle Wagner