Photo: Aylin Gungor

Esmerine: Lost Voices

Lost Voices is an immediate and arresting expedition into new wilds for the Montreal ensemble.
Lost Voices

Lost Voices is an immediate and arresting expedition into new wilds for Esmerine. It also caps off what has been a notable year for their label, Constellation Records, highlighted also by new releases from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Ought.

Fifteen years after cellist Rebecca Foon and percussionist Bruce Cawdron began playing together in Montreal, Esmerine might now have more momentum behind them than ever. In early 2014, Foon and Cawdron took the stage at the Juno Awards to accept their Instrumental Album of the Year statuettes for Dalmak, their fourth album overall, and second for Constellation after their 2011 sort-of-comeback, La Lechuza. Rebooting on that label made sense, especially since Cawdron and Foon came from other collectives from the Constellation galaxy (Cawdron was the drummer for Godspeed You! Black Emperor until 2012, Foon played with Silver Mt. Zion). Both of those records expanded the dynamic scope of their compositional instincts — Dalmak especially.

Dalmak was the final product of an artist residency in Istanbul, which the band was invited to do after performing in the Turkish metropolis. The record featured a number of local guest musicians who didn’t just add a touch of exotic trimming, but, as the title’s meaning implies, infused Esmerine’s sound with the city’s entrancing rhythms and smoky hues. Instruments not often featured in Western music — bağlama, mey, bendir, and many others — slid naturally into place alongside the core quartet of Foon, Cawdron, and multi-instrumentalists Jamie Thompson and Brian Sanderson, both of whom came on board after La Lechuza. That album, too, was rich with drop-ins.

La Lechuza featured appearances from Colin Stetson, Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire, and singer-songwriter Patrick Watson, among many others. Stetson, whose own New History Warfare Col. 3: To See More Light was also a Juno nominee for the same Instrumental Album of the Year award that Esmerine took home, is back on Lost Voices, playing EVI on the sine wave requiem “Our Love We Sing”. A longtime member of both Foon and Cawdron’s former groups, Sophie Trudeau (not to be confused with the new Canadian Prime Minister’s wife) plays violin throughout. Also on board this time around are Jace Lasek from the Besnard Lakes, Pierre-Guy Blanchard of Pacha, Ian Ilavsky of Constellation, and more.

Lost Voices shares another similarity with Dalmak, in that it was born from another artist residency, this time in France. Esmerine composed the album in the splendid environs of the Chateau de Monthelon in Montreal – France, not Canada. Once that part of the journey was completed, the nine songs on Lost Voices were then recorded by Vid Cousins (Amon Tobin, Kid Koala), and then mixed by Lasek and Ilavsky in Montreal – Canada, not France.

“The Neighbourhoods Rise” and “19/14” tiptoe with trepidation before gathering up and breaking into refined melee. If “The Neighbourhoods Rise” seems to carry over traces of Dalmak, that is possibly because James Hakan Dedeoğlu, who played on that record, also contributes guitar to this and several other tracks on Lost Voices. The scorched mystic “Funambule (Deux Pas De Serein)” veers as close to Godspeed’s whirl as Esmerine has yet come. Elsewhere, the spindly “A River Runs Through This City” strides through the night with a rolling Chicago post rock rhythm, while “Pas Trop Pas Tropes” and “My Momma Pinned a Rose on Me” are aching respites woven of marimba and strings.

Dedicated “to all beings and creatures who cannot or can no longer be heard”, Lost Voices is a burning lament, a hopeful swing at the void, bright moments of clarity wrenched from the impenetrable.

RATING 8 / 10