Esmerine ~ Mechanics of Dominion

Constellation Records continues to be on a tear, the latest Esmerine record its crown jewel, eclipsing even the latest Saltland LP from Rebecca Foon.  The themes of that album remain intact, and are amplified here: the world is in disarray, climate change is accelerating, and a rough beast continues to slouch towards Bethlehem.

There are innumerable ways to address such issues, albeit limited by an instrumental palette.  Without the liner notes, those who hear Mechanics of Dominion may not understand the inspiration; but they are suffering from the same symptoms: distrust of leaders, fear of war, panic over “natural disasters” (formerly “acts of God”, an even less comforting phrase).  “We Are the World” seems so long ago, and so quaint.

Esmerine has consistently addressed such issues in manners subtle and overt.  A high mark was reached with Dalmak, an intercontinental collaboration with Turkish musicians.  On Mechanics of Dominion, the band continues to integrate a large swath of sounds (pump organ, marimba, kamel ngoni), but demonstrates great diversity within the set as well. The preview track “Piscibus Maris” + “The Space In Between” is a perfect slice of modern composition, but the bulk of the LP is post-rock mixed with chamber music, jazz and even some drone.  The fact that these are the album’s bookends implies a hopeful conclusion of one shade or another.  Either humankind works out its differences or not, in the latter scenario at least leaving the vegetation time to recover.  The preceding timbres are energetic, hopeful, and much less volatile than one might imagine ~ as if the band had come to the conclusion that anger saps the motivation for action.

The arc of the album ~ some may say a circle ~ allows order to wrap around chaos, peace around war, truth around “post-truth”.  Esmerine has created a tidy world that reflects not the world as it is, but as it might be.  The spare nature of the first and last tracks is reminiscent of the spiritual yearning reflected in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Woodstock”:  We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devils bargain, and we got to get ourselves back to the garden.  The video flips the tracks, an invitation to go back to the beginning.  Broken metal cords are integrated into a tangle of brush; a bird’s egg lies open, the hatchling nowhere to be found.

In contrast, “La Lucha Es Una Sola” (“The Struggle Is Solitary”) stretches slowly from glockenspiel and drone (reminiscent of church bells and chants, reflecting the ancient mind) to the pace of a meandering horse before exploding into an industrial revolution.  Is Esmerine retelling the history of the world?  This song too loops back, as if saying, remember.  From this point forward, the LP begins to increase in tempo, imperceivable at first, but finally obvious ~ a gradual quickening that reflects the exponential growth of populaces and damages.  “Mechanics of Dominion” runs so fast that it cannot stop without risking a tumble: reflection replaced by reaction, progress by velocity, a headlong rush to destruction.

But throughout the set, there is such beauty ~ and in “La Plume Des Armes” (“Feather Weapon”) even playfulness.  Is this how we are supposed to respond to crisis?  Esmerine seems to be saying yes, even with the sword of Damocles dangling over one’s head, don’t forget what makes life worth living.  For if we do, all is lost.  (Richard Allen)

Available here

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