“Let’s get the band back together!” That’s what Austin’s Cinders Ensemble has done after a long hiatus. It’s been four years since they re-formed, and fifteen since their last recorded album, and the time off doesn’t show at all. In the meantime, the members have been busy playing with other bands, most notably My Education, with whom Cinders shares a sonic pedigree. That band’s score to Sunrise may have set the template for Lonely Eskimo, which sounds like a new chamber score to an old film. One can picture the velvet curtains, the gloved concierge, the elaborate event bulletins and the wine post-party. If you’re familiar with that work, or the work of 3epkano, you’ll recognize the sound: intelligent, dramatic and nuanced.
The core sound goes back to the two oldest members: pianist Kirk Laktus and violist James Alexander, now joined by guitarist Brian Purlington and bassist Giuseppe Antonio Volpe. The piano sets the stage, the viola provides the emotional surges, and the guitar and bass boost the excitement. The fact that these musicians have shared stages before answers the question about preparedness; they play off each other with the instinct of long-time friends. The drums (first appearing in the second track) shift the project to the realm of post-rock, which is just fine by us, as that genre has been in need of new infusion as of late. But like the best chamber ensembles, Cinders is not afraid to flip the script, in this instance beginning the song with something that sounds like a finale and ending with a dropout and something that sounds like a prelude. Confusing? Not at all, as Lonely Eskimo is better as a full album than as a series of separate tracks. It would be unfair to suggest that the emerging piano doesn’t lead to anything; it leads to the title track, which also boasts the album’s most memorable line, introduced by the viola before being adopted by the guitar. And then – lo and behold! – an instrumental chorus.
The Baltic flair of “Port, She Said” provides the album with another highlight. As the viola plays, the tempo flirts with acceleration, repeatedly quickening but never breaking the speed limit. A dark ten-note piano motif, repeated once, is jammed into the track like a stop sign. For the most part, the album flows beautifully, all the way down to the lazy river of Benoît Pioulard’s remix of “Rosy Siege”. The only misstep: a lecture about Papa Legba that appears over half an hour into the album. The words break the mood, and as our site is fond of saying, with music this good, one doesn’t need lyrics. The track would have been better positioned as an opener; in the seven spot, it’s a beauty mark. This being said, we love the album as a whole. Every December, we become desperate to hear new quality music, and we suspect this eskimo won’t stay lonely for long. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 2 December