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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Esther Lee
Fifty Eight Now Nine
Sea Level Records

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
Esther Lee is something of a problem for me. Overall, I like the idea of his (one Robert Jansen using a band name to represent him) sound, but I think he gets caught up in a few areas that make it very hard to give a shining review. This is not meant to get you to jump off the Esther Lee bandwagon. On some tracks Jansen gives a unique vision, a voice that sounds like all of his own. "no wings or a barrel" is piano and Robert wreaking havoc with our emotions. "Tempted by kings" is a brilliant off kilter track. Almost pulled on a string. Then there is "Christian Crank" which sounds like a great combination of straight folk and spaghetti western. The inclusion of whistling always gets me and it sounds great in this song.

In order to make this review clearer and less jumbled than most of my rants, I have simplified the things (problems) that I think you should know about this album.

Problem #1
Esther Lee loves the banjo. He uses it a lot on his album, Fifty Eight Now Nine. You can almost guarantee, on over half the songs, a main melody will come in on a banjo. I love the banjo, but in this case I don't think it works. The parts are too simple and don't always sound like they fit smoothly. In this genre, a banjo is best used as a supporting instrument, unless you really know how to play it. Robert Jansen often seems much too in love with the banjo for his own good.

Problem #2
Esther Lee's main problem is not the banjo. His songs end up sounding like they belong to other people. It does not seem like it is necessarily his fault, as he may not have even heard these other artists, for all I know. Unfortunately, this formerly fresh and vibrant genre of slacked alt-country folk is now getting crowded. On "Gackwoods" he sings very much like Will Oldham and even talks about some photographs, a subject on which Mr. Oldham has been known to occasionally speak. Basically, there is a song for just about every fan of Rex, Califone, Palace, Smog, etc. You may like this fact; I find it troublesome.

This album, despite its problems, works pretty well. Certainly it is good enough for people who can absolutely not get enough of this kind of music. They will probably enjoy listening to Esther Lee. He is a good musician and definitely has great potential. (Is that as jerky a thing to say as it sounds? I still think it's true).

Reviewed by John Steinbacher
The last we heard, Steinbacher was living in Minneapolis.

See other reviews by John Steinbacher



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