Weston Minissali seems to enjoy confounding expectations. As a member of Cloud Becomes Your Hand, he embraced goofy, avant-rock and post-pop. With VaVatican, he took a far more experimental approach. His most recent project, Erica Eso, is only slightly more accessible, as it takes on rich, moody art-pop with a hint of jazzy R&B. Imagine a more soulful version of Yeasayer after binging Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star. Previous full-length releases include 2019 (released in 2015, I know, it’s confusing) and 129 Dreamless GMG (2018). The new album, 192, follows a similar musical template.
192 is Erica Eso’s first release on the Hausu Mountain label, and it’s a fitting home for the band – the Chicago-based imprint is dedicated to releasing music that is equal parts challenging and entertaining. Erica Eso’s sound is hard to pin down; there are classic pop and vintage soul elements, but surprises abound at nearly every turn. “Y.L.M.E.” opens the new album as a luminous, low-key jam with Minissali – who also handles synthesizer and piano – sharing vocals with Angelica Bess, resulting in a slinky, synth-washed duet that teeters towards light funk. When Bess takes over vocal duties on “Home Is a Glow”, her jazzy hairpin-turn melodic singing is a delightful surprise. These odd, unexpected moments are a large part of the album’s appeal.
There’s a hefty dose of modernity on 192, but Erica Eso are also unafraid to keep things primarily organic – “YOLK” is framed by rich organ chords that give off the feel of a slow-motion torch song gospel hybrid. Here, Minissali’s singing reaches its peak, veering between tender crooning and tuneful, emotive shouting. Rounding out the quintet are Rhonda Lowry on drums, Nathanial Morgan on fretless bass, and Lydia Velichkovski. The latter provides fascinating vibes all over the place, particularly on the moody ballad “Opening Tumble”, veering at times toward spacey prog rock.
Erica Eso’s eclectic nature allows the band to delve into various genres. Sure, there’s plenty of soul, pop, and dashes of progressive rock, but “O Ocean” even sees them dipping into synth- and beat-heavy new wave (with a healthy dose of tempo-shifting absurdism). The two closing tracks, “Acclaimed Evacuation (Part 1)” and “Acclaimed Evacuation (Part 2)”, are accomplished exercises in neoclassical experimentalism and lightly textured, ethereal pop, respectively.
192 sees Erica Eso continuing to explore plenty of rich musical territory. As they’ve done in the past, their style is odd and oddly comforting – and never dull.