While reading a press release for Goldenwest, I thought I'd stumbled onto some sort of sick joke. Over the course of two paragraphs of description for the sound of the band, nearly every hot indie band name had somehow been mentioned. Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Mogwai somehow all got namedropped, as well as My Bloody Valentine and Spiritualized for good measure. Since I was on the internet at the time, I thought it might be some sort of keyword spamming technique to try to pull people from search engines, but I still decided to give the group a chance.
Although they honestly really don't have a whole lot in common with any of the above artists (except a nice mastering of hazy guitars and vocals), Ester Drang have released an excellent album with Goldenwest. In some ways, the quintet actually has the most in common with fellow Oklahomans The Flaming Lips (whom they will supposedly collaborate with in the future). In fact, the beginning of "Is Nothing New" starts out with just such a layer of synth strings, and if I didn't know what album this was, I might have been fooled into thinking it was a remix of something off the The Soft Bulletin.
That's not to say that Ester Drang is doing nothing but retreading old ground, as that's hardly the case. As with the song mentioned above, things change fairly quickly, and quiet percussion and breathy vocals are added to the mix to give it a heady, swirling feel that it never really comes down from. In fact, Goldenwest draws much of it's power from a subtle layering of rather gentle sounds. The opening, album-titled track "Golden West" shimmers along with several layers of twinkling keyboards and some subtle drumming, while "How Good Is Good Enough" creates some nice guitar white noise for a backdrop.
While some tracks wander a bit too much, the group proves they can pack a delightful amount of sounds into a pop-length track as well. "Song For Jonathon" still contains plenty of gurgling keyboards (as well as one of the most punchy rhythm tracks on the disc), and breathy vocals, but things develop at a more interesting pace in the shorter length and the track stands out because of it. "Words That Cure, Part 2" starts out with almost a jazzy feel, but instead of stretching out into atmospheric haze, the group lets loose on the second part of the track with one of the loudest moments on the disc. Running almost 50 minutes, the album is a fairly good blend of louder and softer moments, although the more spacey moments seem to take up the most room. If I had to compare the groups sound to another group, I'd say they had the most in common with last years fairly obscure offering Happy Happy Happy by the Poor Rich Ones. A good, atmospheric pop album, and another group to look out for in the future.