Eska’s début album has taken a little while to arrive after her excellent EP from 2013. The British singer has an absolutely sterling voice and she likes to throw things into unusual mixes. We’ve seen that sometimes singers with amazing voices end up writing songs that showcase that and not a song itself that’s actually good – Eska thankfully stays away from this camp and focuses on a soulful album that is quite hard to define.
Opening with the slow “This Is How a Garden Grows” we have a bluesy jazz infused track that slowly builds with pianos, bass, guitar and unusual percussive keyboards that all mould around a growing collection of backing vocal layers. The percussion includes broomsticks and playing on a tea set! Eska doesn’t really push her voice here and lets is drift over your ears. The soul from her Zimbabwe roots is there but starts to poke out more in the excellent “Gatekeeper” with warm hmms and hushed ooh’s creating the melody as Eska ad libs over the top. The warm glow turns into a fire of love as acoustic guitars, whistles, marching drums and all kinds of fun joys in. The final minute or so see’s Eska unleashed as she roars each word like a boss. It leaves you on top of the world and is the early peak of energy for the album itself.
“Rock of Ages” continues to work more experimental instruments in the background of more radio friendly reggae folk vibes. The thick bass lines and clever use of backing vocals really allow the main melody and Eska’s voice to permeate around the track itself without being sucked into a really rigid way of delivering it. There’s a wonderful sense of abandonment in the album and it’s uplifting. “Boundaries” also showcases Eska’s love for unusual time and chord signatures. Straying away from the beaten track with a string laden classical folk track, this track feels absolutely free and flowing. It takes a few listens to understand how the beats sway and change and the lyrics, as they are throughout the album, are clever and punchy. Many of the lyrics take cues from tales of old like the Battle of Jericho here, or about Persephone in the folk jig “She’s in the Flowers” which is the rowdiest track on the album. The driving acoustic guitar and simple chords see Eska writing a radio hit from start to end. Each time through the verse and chorus, things slowly turn more electric before its euphoric finale.
“Shades of Blue” has a unique Asian reggae flavour. The claps, the electric sitar sounding guitars and trippy beats really get you shimmying to the beat. There’s even a spoken word middle eight ‘rap’ thrown in amongst the sights and sounds that the track brings. It’s one of the strongest tracks and deserves to be a single with lots of success. It’s the cross over of the traditional roots and the future pop sensibilities that give her the unique sound she’s crafted so well. “Heroes & Villains” is a full on reggae track. The bass line is sumptuous and the organs chirp their chords in sympathy. It’s like going back to the heart of the soul and you can’t help but smile and close your eyes to it and let the conversation flow.
The closing trio of tracks take a lighter and more folk driven tone. “To Be Remembered” has a light and fluffy feel as the piano and percussion drive the track in a jam session like manner. It’s like the tune is just skipping away vaguely in a direction and Eska’s voices are actually driving where it’s going. Initially I thought it was a bit lazy but on repeat listens I was drawn to how much the track feels like you are skipping from cloud to cloud in thought and actually now the track makes perfect sense. “Dear Evelyn” is two minutes of Eska’s voice layered on top of each other. The piece is fast paced, full flowing and feels like a warm cuddle of pure love. You know a tracks special when you wish it wasn’t over so soon. The closer is a jazzy folk track “So Long Eddy” that bypasses traditional chords for a typically Eska-esque wave goodbye from a beautiful album.
Eska requires repeat listens to really get it from start to end. Each time I listen, the more I discover, the more I fall in love with it. The tracks themselves are layered with so much from instruments, to lyrics to that voice. They aren’t immediately catchy for the most part, but they have that grower staying power that makes sure this album will stay in your play rotation for many a year to come. Easily on my top albums of 2015 list already – highly, highly recommended.