April 1, 1999
ESTER DRANG [I]INFINITE KEYS[/I] REVIEW
Unfortunately, it seems that the only way to critique Ester Drang's newest release is to search for its faults. The hardest part is finding them. Emotions on their collective sleeves, Ester Drang has delivered a record steeply sloped with more ups and downs than a heroin addict's mid-morning. Each song has it's own victories and devastations, lilts and crashes, peaks and climaxes. This is a very special record. It defies criticism.
With a pension for dynamics and the talent to pull it off, Ester Drang might have grown up on R.E.M. and The Smiths, but currently live fancifully right in-between the Radiohead, Mogwai, and Coldplay houses most of times - yet, the band pulls off a sensory explosion that none of the aforementioned bands have given for quite a while. Infinite Keys takes the listener through every emotion and movement available to modern melodic artists. The band portrays an innocence that has possibly been lost in the chaos of the newest MTV generation.
The combination of traditional rock instruments (drums, bass, guitar, keys, voice) combined with a dazzlingly executed array of samples and triggers yield a lush environment where each song lives. With each song being so creatively crafted, there really is no use in picking the best song on the record as all blend beautifully into the next. On repeat 10 times over, Infinite Keys sounds like 10 great albums strung together perfectly - and something new is unearthed in each with every full replay.
"The Temple Mount" begins the album like a drug - it slowly seeps into veins. Showing that they are the new masters of 'the build', the band gives a kick, square to the gut, then leaves the listener to lie in agony, wishing for the second verse. This is clearly the set up for the rest of the record. The first lesson on how to build a song.
"Dead Man's Point Of View" continues the theme with a thick, hopeful guitar riff and something that sounds like a sampled or looped glockenspiel. Of course it's the keyboards playing - every member of the band lists synths in their repertoire. Bringing it all together is some sort of sax effect that sounds as if it was quelled from some long-lost Dark Side of the Moon session. The rest is brilliant Cure-driven dramatics over drums that get dynamically louder as the song completes. Ester Drang is the new king of Mercury Rev-esque dynamics.
An old (and mostly forgotten) band, Strictly Ballroom, might have composed "Oceans Of You" on their best day; and Johnny Marr's jangly guitar might be forgotten while listening to "The Best Thing". Again, showing their penchant for full-length moodiness and emotionality, Ester Drang classes themselves out of any potential radio play.
The album fortunately continues on this vein, getting better with every song. Each song's construction drivies the listener nearly to the verge of insanity through it's curious subtleness combined with simple complexity. The album concludes with the lullabye-esque love anthem "I Don't Want To Live (In A World Of Infinite Keys)", with it's cascading piano repeat, and lyrics offering "All my life full of choices/full of keys/all I chose is you/you're all I need/choices". This is the modern love song.
At times, Infinite Keys might be the heaviest of albums, and at other times maybe the lightest - it's truly the "contradiction in itself" effect that makes it radiant. There are tens of thousands of records released every year. Once a year, so-called critics make a list of what was the best or the worst. Realistically, if you only look for one or two albums to purchase every year, this is it. Buy two.
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