The experimental acousti-tronica (is that a thing? it totally should be) of Dundee artist Chris Lee-Marr has been in my life for so long now that it was a surprise to receive a package billed as the artist’s “debut album”. What probably makes it more confusing is that his project, Esperi, has lost none of its slightly shambolic lo-fi charm in translation.
While that sense of familiarity is certainly bolstered by songs that have appeared on previous releases in one form or another – “Dialled” and “Made For Life” for example – Marr’s use of found sounds, particularly children’s toys, has a substantial role to play. In a Moment, Emotion, Sentiment is almost magical in the way it takes the simplest elements and creates these beautiful, intricately-layered pieces: it sounds like an adventure in your back garden armed against pirates with a sword made of tin-foil; chasing bubbles; the smell of cinnamon.
The accompanying press release talks about the “naivety” of Marr’s lyrics, but I think there’s a universe of difference between naivety and the universe that the music of Esperi actually inhabits – a universe where anything is possible and hope is the overarching emotion. In many cases the songs develop almost in the form of suites over six or seven minutes as different elements fade in and out – the effect is one that it’s hard to believe Marr creates on his own until you’ve seen him live with a selection of loop pedals, plastic objects and his trademark rainbow-coloured bells.
If the album has a weakness it’s that its gentle melodies can sometimes bleed into one another, but clever riffs and apt, quietly humorous lyrics tend to catch at the ears before the risk of becoming complacent properly emerges. There’s nothing worse than losing touch when it works as well as us, Marr sings on “Homer” – sigh! – while later on the record “Cats and Dogs” dive in and out of beachy waves made of twinkly xylophone and finger-clicks.
The album’s real treat though is “Hearts”, a closing two-parter which ultimately continues for over ten minutes. Lyrically it’s a gorgeous little lovesong containing one of my favourite Esperi lyrics (“there’s not enough blood in my alcohol system”) but it’s once the words stop that the piece sweels and expands, conveying more in its ambitious use of layers and loops than words ever could.
Also out this week: Chris Brown’s Fortune, reviewed at The Arts Desk