reviewed by Michael Thomas
Times have changed, and so has the music of For Esmé. Well, not entirely—the group’s smart synth-pop has not really changed much. But this record is extremely focused thematically, and you might be living on another planet if you don’t get what it’s all about.
Martha Meredith describes the album as “a feminist awakening and excavation of the voices within.” Perhaps closer “Asleep / Awake,” with its gorgeous layering of repeated phrases, catalogues the lyrical changes most effectively: “I was sleeping, now I’m wide awake/Armed with the courage of my mistakes.” The sparse song thoughtfully brings the album to a close, but it’s also a good way to explain Meredith’s sharp, pointed lyrics.
Songs one through nine pull zero punches. From the string-filled opening of “To Love” to “Didn’t Ask,” which ends with a story about a confrontation, Meredith is telling the world that it’s high time to speak up and quit it with double-standard, overtly sexist bullshit. On “I Never Learn,” a song that swells with big percussive beats, Meredith sings about how women are seemingly only defined by men by their relation to men: “If I’m not the subject I guess I’m the other/His motivation, his muse or his mother.” With “Doubtmouth,” Meredith takes aim at the culture that makes women choose between “being nice and being right,” and how “politeness” is really just code for “shutting up.”
These are the pointed observations, but Meredith also tries to find something she can do about all this shit. “To Hate” opens with a familiar scene over a pseudo-tropical beat: waking up in the morning, turning on the news and realizing more awfulness has happened while you were asleep. But Meredith won’t just get mad about it: “I’m gonna find some more hope in my cynical rage.” She declares she could be “an antidote to hate.”
Amid action and anger, a few songs also capture the tiredness any progressive person must feel every once in a while. “Secret Church” is a delicate song that begins with Meredith describing her own beautiful place of worship, before singing “Charlie I’m tired, am I coming untied? I’m not a liar, I’m just undecided.” The dark “Small Talk” has Meredith unable to escape the things she hears and the music matches that sense of abject horror.
The aforementioned “Didn’t Ask” is another fiery song, a callout to cat-callers and men who can’t keep their mouths shut. She chooses to end the song with a story about a car stopping to say something gross, only for the storyteller to bike in front of the car and block its path as she calls out the driver for his awfulness. You can feel the anger of the storyteller even though she laughs here and there, and it’s a reminder that we still have a long way to go.
Top Tracks: “Small Talk”; “Secret Church”; “Asleep / Awake”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) +*swoop*