Recommendation: If you don’t buy this album, we’ll suspect you of ulterior motives
Esmerine started as a duo constructed by Bruce Cawdrom (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and Beckie Foon (Thee Silver Mt. Zion). The group is now returning after their six year hiatus with two new band members: Sarah Page (Lhasa de Sela, The Barr Brothers) and Andrew Barr (Lhasa de Sela, The Slip, Land of Talk, The Barr Brothers). La Lechuza is “dedicated to the late Lhasa de Sela, a close friend and collaborator of all four members of the group, and features an unreleased version of her song ‘Fish on Land,’ recorded with Beckie and Bruce during sessions for Lhasa’s final album.” Lhasa de Sela was an internationally-renowned Montreal-based singer who was diagnosed with breast cancer during the making of her album Lhasa (2009). They were all introduced while working on her third and final record. She was able to complete the album but died soon after on New Year’s Day 2010 at the age of 37. To break down all of the instruments being played; Bruce Cawdrom (marimba, glockenspiel, drums, melodic percussion) Beckie Foon (cello), Sarah Page (harp, dulcimer) and Andrew Barr (marimba, drums, melodic percussion). The album was tracked by Patrick Watson and Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, Unicorns) mixed the bulk of the album’s tracks.
Esmerine’s third nature-esque album La Lechuza is unlike anything you will wrap your eager ears around all year. It is not an album of singles but a journey as a whole cumulative piece. Each song is modern and complex, all different than their predecessors. The first song, “A Dog River,” starts out with an alluring marimba riff with constant layers being added on top as the song progresses. With each new musical addition of violin and cello, then Stetson’s horn blasts popping up as the ending surprise, the song seems to be doing the opposite to the listener’s psyche, like a present being unwrapped.
“Walking Through Mist” isn’t as complicated as some of the others but it’s simplicity showcases the band’s vulnerability and leads triumphantly into “Last Waltz.” The first tune with lyrics backed by an airy marimba and harp is “Last Waltz.” Thinking of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Thee Silver Mt. Zion, lyrics are the last impressions to come to mind. A surprising direction to experience the soothing vocals of Sarah Page then Patrick Watson. When Page expresses, “Underneath the fallen, where the horses sleep” followed up with Watson’s harmonizing, the album transforms from something original to something special. ”Trampolin” could just as easily be called “Kaleidoscope” because of the imagery created by the mesmerizing sounds like beads and pebbles dropping on circular mirrors.
“Snow Day for Lhasa” is the most intimate of all the songs, a cry for their resting friend Lhasa. In the most outstanding number of them all, “Sprouts”, the multitude of melodies and drum progressions, it is the most reminiscent of Godspeed’s intensity and dynamics. From “Trampolin” to “Sprouts” and everything in between, waves of shock rolled down my face. ”Little Streams Make Big Rivers” begins with a steady drift of strings and Stetson’s horn flutters bounce in-and-out of surface. A shift halfway through the song of heavy drum pounces demonstrate the capabilities of Cawdrom and Barr. The final farewell to Lhasa involves the song sung by her in her last few months on Earth, “Fish on Land.” The more somber version than on her album, involving few piano and cello notes with eerily truthful lyrics “I had a dream last night, a fish on land gasping for breath just laughed and sang this song. Is life like this for everyone?” La Lechuza is an album of mourning; filled with anger, sadness and acceptance and all of that spirals through you at various times. A superb group of songs that I feel honored to have been able to experience with the band. The only thing that could top this album is being able to watch them perform it live or at least listening to it on vinyl.
CD comes in a custom gatefold jacket printed on reverse 100% recycled Orford paperboard in full colour. LP is pressed on 180g vinyl at Optimal (Germany) and comes in a jacket printed in full colour on thick 24pt board and includes a colour insert sheet. First pressing of LP also includes a limited edition art print poster and a CD copy of the album.
Cover art paintings by Brad Todd. Owl drawing by Elisabeth Belliveau.
Esmerine is Rebecca Foon, Bruce Cawdron, Sarah Pagé and Andrew Barr.
Patrick Watson - vocals, piano (tracks 3, 4, 5)
Sarah Neufeld - violin (tracks 1, 7)
Colin Stetson - saxophones (tracks 1, 7)
Mishka Stein - bass (track 5)
Robbie Kuster - steel drums (track 5)
Miles Perkins - bass (track 6)
Ian Ilavsky - bass (track 7)
"Fish on Land" written and sung by Lhasa de Sela, from a previously unreleased version of the song recorded with Bruce and Rebecca in 2008.
Recorded by Patrick Watson and mixed by Mark Lawson, except:
Track 1 - Recorded by Claus Frostell
Tracks 3, 5 - Mixed by Patrick Watson
Track 4 - Recorded by Patrick Watson & Andrew Barr
Track 7 - Recorded by Claus Frostell & Mark Lawson
Track 9 - Recorded and mixed by Thierry Amar
Mastered by Ryan Morey