Ovum Caper

Esa Shields
(Gagarin Records)

Album review by Richard Lewis - 18/11/2014

Compelling, off kilter pop from underground pop polymath

The debut release by Esa Shields following a series of appetite whetting Soundcloud tracks, Ovum Caper more than backs up the initial promise heard on the mysterious clutch of tracks heard online. A collection of shadowy acid-folk/psych-pop nuggets, all the tracks are imbued with a crepuscular, twilight atmosphere beneath the bright surfaces of each track.

While sometimes not entirely immediate on first impressions, repeated airings find the tracks slowly taking up residence in the listener’s head. Almost entirely self-played, the luminous pop of ‘Monde Capricorn’ opens the set with a strong showcase for what follows: vintage Casino keyboards, wayward guitar strumming, rhythms held down by low key programmed beats and percussive rattling with Esa’s fragile but upfront vocals leading proceedings.

‘Crayon Gurn’ second, founded on a bewildering array of almost jazz chord progressions works its way along in a pincer movement, before a succession of guitar arpeggios lends a sinister undertow towards the close.

‘Finally Dimitri’ mixing twinkling cabaret act keyboards with off-key guitar tangents and a nursery rhyme lyric meanwhile is followed by the excellent ‘Lost Time’ that pairs shadowy reverbed guitar line with a sixties girl group melody. Successfully navigating the perilous tightrope between ultra-melodic and discordant, the song then disappears in a haze of a beautifully played harp accompaniment.

‘D.A.’ comes across as the result of two cassette Walkmans playing two fantastic pop songs at the same time, the resultant cross cutting of melodies tuneful and jarring in equal measure. ‘Shelley Duvall’ shares the honours along with ‘Monde Capricorn’ for the high point on the LP, a slowly rolling acidic pop tune that pays tribute to the heroine of The Shining, a two and a half minute gem that like all the best pop songs seemingly finishes far too quickly.

‘Rumours’ riding along on a chassis of gothic organ would ideally soundtrack a rural-set Hammer Horror, while following bad trip synthscape ‘Freclem’, ‘Woods and Gullies’ combines the treasured influence of John Carpenter soundtracks, the deep synth lines colliding with a vocal melody that sounds as though it was purloined off an ancient folk tune.

The elegiac ‘Jenkins Other’ centred around weeping Mellotron chords softly patters past before ‘Rumours (Reprise)’ which doesn’t appear to have much of a connection to the earlier track, presents a suite of luscious synth chords that swims past before thirty seconds of silence leads into the run-out groove.

A compelling set of eerie, off-kilter alt. pop, the album stands as one of the best long players to have emerged from the city over the last 12 months.


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