Soundtrack to Our Lives. | Esthema at the Middle East Corner.

In Audiorotic by Pete SalomoneLeave a Comment

Music has changed, or at least the way we consume it. People have stopped listening to music; it’s simply become the background to our lives. The hifi systems are gone, the headphones have been reduced to mere travelling companions. Even once-ubiquitous rock music has been pushed out from the center, and it takes something like Apple & U2’s recent stunt to make it anything other than greatest-hits-tour fodder. In a world increasingly overridden by the pop-bubble and EDM, is there still a place for thoughtful, skillfully-made instrumental music?

Even if that place is getting smaller Esthema seem to think there is, and their outer-rim influences: world music, blended with prog and metal, only serve to improve the depth of their output. Progressive music is gone from the mainstream, but it wasn’t too long ago that Rush was filling stadiums, even less time since Dream Theater played hockey arenas, while more recent prog groups like Between the Buried and Me or Coheed and Cambria toured similar venues. The rock music that makes headlines is inherently simple, usually old style blues-based acts like The Black Keys or anything with Jack White. Esthema’s development is more complicated, its roots much older.

Fans of more recent progressive and metal groups, the musicians who make up Esthema are deeply versed in traditional Greek and Turkish music. Traditional stringed instruments make up a portion of Esthema’s sound in a fascinating and transformative, an unfortunately uncommon manner. Their recorded music is rife with drastic changes in tone, tempo, and time, and it would make sense that it would sound disjointed when played live. Nothing could be further from the truth. Where I was expecting a constant sea of improvised pieces, which may or may not fill a possible whole, I was met with cohesion from top to bottom. There were no extended sections which relied on visual or musical cues to bring the band back to the same page, nobody floated out to their own world, everyone played as one.

With players this skilled, jazz-influenced composition may veer towards self-indulgent tedium, but I was delighted by the attention to detail of their compositions. Esthema is a musician’s band. It takes an experienced ear to discern frequent time, key, and instrument changes from free-form madness. Every sound felt like the band had been over it more times than I care to think about, making sure nothing was being felt out on the spot, which made the organic feel of such intricate material all the more impressive. Esthema’s music deftly glided past pretension and found itself in a sea of riches instead. I couldn’t help but follow the tones and moods being pulled in a wonderful evocation.

This is the point, dear reader, where the story gets murky. The gentlemen of Esthema are some of the finest musicians I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, yet for all of them this band is one of several ongoing gigs. These are career musicians, fluent in more styles than I can probably spell, and capable of producing engrossing music with the same requisite effort I require to amble to the bathroom in the morning. For all of the obvious ability and its flavorful fruits, there lies an air of inaccessibility, earned or not. Music is simply a group of sounds intended to produce a desired emotional or visceral effect, nothing more. A listener does not have to be able to properly notate the polyrhythmic time signatures or, hell, even know what that phrase means: if it transports you somewhere, does anything else matter?

If Yes and Bill Withers can successfully coexist in 1972, what’s to stop Esthema from achieving their own success in 2014? The sheer number of options available at your fingertips (you are reading this on the internet… aren’t you?) paints a bleak picture for many specialized artists these days, from house music, to reggae-influenced hip-hop, to heavy metal, to alt-country, the infamous record contracts are dying along with the labels that would have printed them, as music has become all but fully democratized. Sure, Beyonce or the Foo Fighters aren’t about to go the way of the dinosaur (we’ll always need a few collective experiences to call ourselves a society), but the good news is that there is so much good music being thrust upon the world that the act of finding it can be as daunting as a sheer cliff face. I can only hope each subgenre has something like Esthema in its ranks, producing such intricate, lush music as to make you forget how difficult it must truly be.

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