Album Review: Eska – Eska

The London-based singer-songwriter astounds on an assured debut effort that confirms her as one of the UK’s most exciting voices. Eska’s first offering is clearly the work of careful planning and delicate arrangement, yet it always manages to sound organic and free. This album may have been a long time in the making, but the finished LP arrives fresh and fully formed – a unique blend of sounds and styles that feels effortlessly, tangibly alive.

One of Eska’s real strengths is vision, and she demonstrates that in spades here. As such, the arrangements play host to a whole array of different instruments and textures, but they never feel cluttered or chaotic. Of course, while the musicianship and composition on show are superlative, it’s Eska who ties it all together, whose gifts for songcraft and storytelling lend the album its otherworldly charm.

‘This is How a Garden Grows’ is an appropriately titled yet unassuming opener. This is a perfect introduction to the world of the album, a slow burn of quiet dynamics, breathy vocal harmonies, and layered instrumentation that, aptly enough, grow together into moments of bliss and contemplation.

This opening sets things up nicely for one of the clear album standouts and a track that has been doing the rounds for some time now, the arresting ‘Gatekeeper’. Eska really gets to show off her immense vocal range here with a performance that is accompanied by rattling drums, handclaps, and the joyous whoops and whistles of a backing choir. It’s certainly an interesting choice for a second song as for my money it’s the closest here to anthem material.

‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘Boundaries’ bring things down a bit, the former an expert mesh of folk and soul, with a wondrous array of instruments like guitar, accordion, strings and what I suspect to be the low drone of a musical saw. ‘Boundaries’ is much grander fare, with Eska’s soaring vocals and ascendant, orchestral strings.

‘She’s in the Flowers’ and ‘Shades of Blue’ provide the more up-tempo part of the album, with ‘She’s in the Flowers’ skipping along with frenetic fingerpicked guitar and mandolin accompaniment. Still, it is ‘Shades of Blue’ which proves the highlight, and perfectly showcases Eska’s talent for layering numerous melodies and sounds to great effect.

‘Heroes and Villains’ switches the album up again, a dubby reggae number replete with typically off-beat and choppy guitars, organ, and a thudding bassline. ‘To Be Remembered’ presents another interesting change of pace, a contemplation on a day spent travelling around London. This is another high point for me, with a really interesting polyphony of sounds that ranges from choral vocals and strings all rooted together with a twinkling keys motif.

The album is closed out with ‘Dear Evelyn’ and ‘So Long Eddy’, the former an almost Reich-like experiment in looped vocals and the latter a subdued piece of soul that brings the album all the way back round to its beginning, serving as a perfectly dreamy counter to the album’s opening.

Eska’s debut album is a confident, powerful and solid introduction to a unique and captivating talent, and immediately puts her on the map of British voices to watch out for in 2015.

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