It’s just not fair. Montreal’s Esmerine was already one of the world’s best instrumental rock bands, with roots stretching back to GY!BE and Thee Silver Mt. Zion. But now the band has added members and guest stars, including touring member Jérémi Roy on contrabass, GY!BE’s Sophie Trudeau on violin, three guitarists and more. At peak strength, the one-time quartet (now a quintet) becomes a nonet, which is not a word we use often. Other bands just can’t compete with this.
Constellation calls Lost Voices the band’s “rock album,” which is clear from the setup. But the contributions of the principal players are never obscured. Right from the outset – the startling, rollicking, yet surprisingly tender opener “The Neighborhoods Rise” – one can hear the cello, mallets and percussion that connect this work to prior sets. Also present are the Arabic flavors that spiced up the band’s last album, La Lechuza. By preserving all that is right about the band and adding even more, Esmerine has made a statement of strength. How full everything sounds at 3:35 as the additional instruments break through! And then at 5:14, the unexpectedly poignant string finale. Changes aside, this is still unmistakably Esmerine.
Whether rocking or rolling, steady or tumultuous, thoughtful or exuberant, the album continues to entertain throughout. It’s one of the most solid sets we’ve heard in quite a while, in that the quality never drops and the energy never lags. At 46 minutes, the album is compact, well-edited and well-sequenced. One might say that it carefully descends into a valley over the first three tracks, walks around for a bit, then hikes back out; or that it bookends its emotions with side-closing minuets. Either way, Lost Voices shows incredible flow, with each piece walking over a sturdy bridge from the track before. The flow is apparent within tracks as well, especially on the shifting “19/14,” which incorporates multiple styles over a steady tempo. At the beginning, one would never anticipate the loud riffs that punctuate the end; but by the time they arrive, they fit.
Even louder and fuller is the astonishing “Funambule (Deux Pas De Serein)”, otherwise known as the nonet track. This track starts with such a bang that it has to take a break; but when it does, it’s only for a guitar solo that sets up the album’s most percussion-heavy, toe-tapping segment. We’ve never really thought of Esmerine as a band that makes one want to dance, but for a few precious minutes, this track is exactly that: rhythmic and jubilant, an expression not only of friendship, but of kin. The warmth of the closing strings is like another log on an already comforting fire, while the tender final tracks “Our Love We Sing” and “Lullaby for Nola” are like the blanket and the goodnight embrace.
Every time we hear a new Esmerine album, we suspect it might be their best; the same thought has just occurred to us again. (Richard Allen)