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Friday, 7 December 2012

ESG - Come Away With ESG (1983)

In all creative spheres there seems to be this gulf between technical proficiency on the one hand, and talent on the other. Talent is something that transcends pure technical ability, and speaks of something deeper and more creative. An artist can possess amazing technical skills, but lack the talent to create something new and engaging with it, while an artist who lacks technical ability may create something far more interesting, innovative and engaging.

South-Bronx post-punk-funk pioneers ESG are one of those bands that are severely lacking in technical ability. But, like the best creative minds, they turned limited musical ability into a sparse, funky minimalism that captured the imagination of some of the biggest acts in hip-hop such as the Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy, who would go on to sample ESG’s esoteric sounds. Come Away With ESG pulls in influences from Motown to dub, from punk to minimalism, and from funk to electronica with some syncopated polyrhythms thrown in to shake things up a bit.

The album opens with the sparse twisted rhythms of ‘Come Away’, with its deep rumbling dub-inspired bass-line, and the female vocals of the Stroggins sisters creating an almost hypnotic feeling. ‘Dance’ immediately settles into an awesome bass-groove that feels as though it was made up of the perfect amount of notes needed to create groove in its purest form – nothing is added, nothing is taken away. There are no needless fills or added intricacies to distract us from the matter at hand, namely, to make you want to get off your arse and dance.

Instrumental ‘Parking Lot Blues’ is held firmly in place by a dirty meandering bass-line and twitchy drums, and is only occasionally shaken from its relentless drive by echoes of car horn sounds and sporadic guitar playing. ‘You Make No Sense’ continues along the same musical lines as ‘Dance’ as the Stroggins sisters repeat the lines “You make no / You make no sense”. ‘Chistelle’ sounds dark and paranoid, with its insistent choppy rhythms and intense guitar-work creating feelings of disconcerting agitation and jittery unease. ‘About You’ slows things down with off-beat rhythms and the inclusion of the post-punk-funk staple: a cowbell.

‘It’s Alright’ has easily one of the coolest intros on the album: it’s as though the music is teasing you, pulling you in, screeching to a halt and then quickly kicking in without warning. ‘Moody (Space Out)’ brings in a disco influence, but strips back the flamboyancy of acts like Le Chic and Earth Wind and Fire and strips the music back to its most necessary and fundamental components. This is followed by the instrumental stomper ‘Tiny Sticks’ which is essentially a driving percussive piece with bass playing over a driving rhythm made up of cowbells, woodblocks and kick drums. ‘The Beat’ sounds like a crazy precursor to acts like Fat Boy Slim and Le Tigre. The vocals are delivered with a tuneless urgency over filtered beats and funk bass-loops.

The album closes with ‘My Love for You’, which is probably the most experimental sounding track on the album. All sorts of studio wizardry are utilised as the drums seem to sweep in and out of the mix as metronomic cowbells keep time with insistent pounding.

This is a unique and excellent album, and one that shows the importance of creative talent over technical ability. This one is a keeper.

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