Review Summary: The genre of big men with big voices grows with this promising debut.
Following in the footsteps of the genre juggernauts VNV Nation
, Assemblage 32
, and Covenant
is something many up and coming futurepop groups have attempted. Arkansas local James Esper is the latest in this long line of aspiring artists, and after many years of having only a few singles available he finally released an entire album, Dying Life
Similar to vocalists/front men Tom Shear and Ronan Harris both in hairstyle and vocals, Esper isn't pushing the envelop when it comes to monotone-esque delivery. However the aspect that many will notice is the unique vocal tinge Esper gives his vocals, the chorus on “Siberia” being a prime example. This tinge helps keep Espermachine apart from its counterparts, carving a niche (however slight) of its own in the vocal department. The comparisons to the genre juggernauts don't stop there however; Tom Shear did the production for the album, helping make a few tracks (see “A Watery Grave”) draw direct comparisons between this and albums such as Meta
Regardless of how long the album has been in the works its consistency still comes as a bit of a surprise for a debut. From the somewhat playful beats of “Dying Life (Mix Two)” to the spacey opening synths of “A Thousand Days” Dying Life
never has a dull moment, though there are some less than wonderful parts as well. With Mr. Shear at the helm the production feels somewhat robotic, which is often at odds to Esper's emotional delivery, lyrical subject matter, or love for spacey coldwave style synths. This effect only becomes more pronounced when tracks of differing stlyes are palced next to another; “Shadows” only benefits from this EBM style production with it's more club friendly sound, whereas with “A Thousand Days” it feels at odds with the opening synth line and the higher points of the chorus.
This duality between the relatively harder hitting and the more atmospheric tracks will either make or break the album for many an audience member, as no track is under four minutes long. Such length is not wasted either, as “Haunting You” aptly shows. Beginning with a driving mechanized beat, various highhats and other drum hits are added as Esper croons “I'm right behind you, I follow behind you, I search for you... I shadow you”
. The synth lines build as his vocals take on a truly haunting quality, only to be cut out for a brief instrumental interlude. The opening theme is revisited as the vocals return, this time with a whispered accompaniment following Espers every line. “Haunting You” is something avid listeners of the genre won't have heard all that often, and though not groundbreaking moments like these are welcome changes.
is a strong album, an almost excellent debut if the production would not have been at odds with what Esper is trying to portray. Strong lyrics and a distinct yet familiar vocal style should make fans of futurepop swoon, and for the synth lover this album holds many a gem within its layers. The mixing is at first glance well done, but as the album progresses it slowly shows that the last four tracks are all in a similar style, leaving the album a bit more cohesive there than at the beginning. In spite of these issues the album has a lot of potential, though often leaves the listener wondering what it would have been like had it not been plagued with such a strange production/identity issue. Espermachine has crafted a strong debut, one well worth your time even in light of its main flaw, and for new futurepop that is truly a good thing.