REVIEW: Erica Eso - 129 Dreamless GMG

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Phillipe Roberts

Call it post-post-apocalyptic, call it “femmed-out microtonal synth pop,” but Erica Eso are reaching for something beyond the darkness on 129 Dreamless GMG. Far from the sketchy abstractions of their last record, the scrappy bedroom-pop explosion 2019, the band focuses on building something up from the digital wasteland of the now, treating their trademark between-the-keys synthesizer antics as fertile ground to plant a more organic crop of tunes—ones that drift between the locked-in grooves that the expanded lineup affords them and an ethereal soulfulness suggestive of a futuristic spirituality. Rather than be ground down by the emptiness of the present, Erica Eso zeroes in on a way out, lyrically and instrumentally. 129 Dreamless GMG proposes a path forward, recognizes that “maybe I get my freedom within confines,” but doesn’t content itself with despair. They lap up every ounce of freedom they can get their hands on.

In keeping with that spirit of expressing the limitless present, Dreamless doesn’t burden itself with creating too much structure; bring the right melodies to the table and the listener’s mind will impose the structure. Final and peak track “House That’s Always Burning” shows off this formula working to its fullest capacity, cutting the alarm-bell synths and loping rhythm of the intro with some microtonal DJ-style freakouts, sending it careening into a tremendous, sassy R&B chorus that feels piped in from an underground future rave. “Love-Gun” struts right out of the gate, hypnotic and woozy, but after the second swaggering verse, the song falls into its own trance. Stabs of trumpet-like synths creep in like a daydream fantasy. A voice deadpans single words—“Deeper / Closer / Somebody / Patience”—torn out of context like a half-remembered conversation, before fading out and bubbling back in stronger than before. Much like life in New York City, you have to get used to these sonic intrusions in order to hear the ideas beneath the surface. Keep your ears open. Dreamless rewards you for taking these musical side quests.

It’s impressive how palatable Erica Eso are able to make the “microtonal” aspects of this record. At no point, not even during the expanded synth feedback jamming of “Mirror Stage II,” do those in-between notes feel out of place or overtly abrasive. The sounds they create with it, from the ghostly howls on “Gun-metal Grey” to the nauseous but funky arpeggiations of “House That’s Always Burning,” feel like the most calculated, accurate expressions of a singular idea, rather than flashy synth tricks born of pretension. The stunning pop instincts of composer Weston Minissali get most of the credit here, but enough cannot be said about how seamlessly the backing band works to turn those avant-garde flirtations into genuine hooks. The robotic harmonies and dueling saxophone-synth lines of “Gun-metal Grey,” and the brilliantly bored chorus of “Vaccination Free” (“Happily waiting for life’s lockjaw to inevitably catch up to me”) are absolutely deadly in their hands.

In a recent interview with Flypaper, Minissali mused that “the last thing Brooklyn needs is another cool, tight, clever, pretty good, homogenous indie band. We need to take risks and be on the cusp and be dreaming harder than we’ve ever dreamt.” Right on the money, with a small caveat: Erica Eso have never sounded cooler, tighter, or more clever, but with 129 Dreamless GMG, they’ve blown the possibility of homogeneity even further than before. In fact, Dreamless couldn’t be a worse description of the record; if anything Erica Eso have found a way inside of each other’s deepest fantasies, and they’re here to stay.