Tabs Out | Erica Eso – 2019

Erica Eso – 2019
10.13.15 by Scott Scholz


Synth whisperer and composer Weston Minissali plays with some of the deepest avant-weirdo collabs around: his tapes with Trumpet Trumpet Synthesizer on Weird Ear Records and VaVatican on NNA Tapes were a couple of the wildest rides of 2014, not to mention the spectacular Cloud Becomes Your Hand LP, Rocks or Cakes. Now Minissali has launched a solo project called Erica Eso, whose debut “2019” drops this week, and this tape rules so hard that you might as well just glue it into your Walkman.

At its core, 2019 is an album of tightly-written songs with enduring melodies that convey both a sense of tender fragility and a kind of archetypal carved-in-stone inevitability. From the foothold of this songwriting, seriously trippy arrangements explore uncharted territory from several perspectives, featuring Minissali on falsetto lead vocals that are teased with autotune and formant manipulations into a unique kind of pandrogyne psalmistry. As you might expect, synths dominate the sound of Erica Eso, from delicate high-frequency wisps to sounds that remind me of a performance indication in one of Weston’s graphic scores: “LARGE TIMELESS SOUND.” But perhaps the most interesting facet of this music beyond the songs themselves is their temperament: these are quarter tone jams!

You don’t have to be into music nerd technicalities to feel what’s going on in these pieces, but let’s explore this for a minute. You have microtonal music in general, which includes a variety of non-Western musical traditions who use tuning systems other than equal temperament, and then you have quarter tones, an extension of equal temperament produced by dividing the 12 equal tones in western music in half again (24-tet). The latter have mostly been used for academic or “art” music by composers like Ives, Stockhausen, Xenakis, etc, and in those scenes, they’re almost always used to create new kinds of dissonance and fragmentation. Minissali’s writing for Erica Eso takes an almost opposite approach: this music is exploring new kinds of consonance, a new tonality.

You’ll hear quarter tones introducing new kinds of emotional spaces throughout 2019. Sure, there are a few passages where the music assumes a kind of melting elasticity, but more often the quarter tones are poignantly melodic. I’m especially fixated on what’s happening with 3rds and 7ths in this music: you get phrases where the usual happy/sad duality of major and minor 3rds opens into a new in-between vibe. Or you get flat 7ths drooping a little more flat than usual, or major 7th leading tones pushed up even closer to the octave, just begging to resolve. If you let yourself get into those little adjustments in pitch, they carry a huge emotional punch that’s hard to articulate: something of a lengthy nostalgia, a seasonal shift?…presque vu. There are even spots where Minissali’s vocals are autotune-locked to quarter tone intervals, easily the most intense use of autotune since Cher swallowed an Antares plugin.

So if you like getting supersize seasonal feels from music, you’re gonna want to check out Erica Eso. A live band lineup rolls out to support this album on October 16, also the official release date for 2019. You can check tour dates at Erica Eso’s website, and you can preorder the album from Ramp Local.

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