Esthesis are a new progressive rock band from France who won the ‘Best Unsigned Act’ in the Prog Magazine Readers’ Poll of 2020, and released their debut album The Awakening later that year. Securing such an accolade deserves some attention so in we dive to see what can be found.
Their name is a curiosity in itself and the dictionary tells us it means:
“the normal ability to experience sensation, perception or sensitivity.”
Their website says that their music is “primarily based on emotions and ambiences”. With such a name and self-description it seems likely that we were heading into atmospheric, ambient soundscapes… with a sneaking suspicion that the shadows of Gilmour, Mason, Waters and Wright would not be far away? Esthesis have stated that The Awakening “deals with the notion of identity (awakening, quest and loss of identity)”, which is an ambitious theme, so it will be interesting to see the identity that the band carve out for themselves.
Downstream immediately immerses us in lush sonic landscapes with synth drones, eerie keys, languorous drumbeats and stately guitar passages… we are definitely deep in Pink Floyd territory for the next 16 minutes. Aurelien Goude’s mellifluous voice is also Gilmour-esque in softly sung refrains. The piece floats and fluctuates in a lovely lilting dream-like manner, and is clearly very influenced by mid-’70s Floyd. They do it very well but it is pure Floyd in intention, execution and performance, and great if you like that era of Pink Floyd. So far, so Pink.
Esthesis claim to be influenced by “’70s British rock, film scores, ambient, metal, pop”, and the next song, No Soul to Sell, impels them in a different direction. Ominous, sparse keyboard notes are joined by rhythmic drums and keys. Goude’s more insistent voice comes in over crisp, crunching guitars and droning keys with a cool drum and bass beat… and the next influence becomes ever clearer, especially with the mournful vocalisations over the main theme – Esthesis are channelling Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson. Yet again they do it very well, in fact so well that one could stumble across this song and wonder if it were a long lost ‘outtake’ from ‘Mr Chuckletrousers’ himself! The Floydian ambience comes back in for the mid-section, gradually rising in tempo and intensity until the earlier crunching guitar theme from Baptiste Desmares recapitulates powerfully, with Florian Rodrigues excelling on drums. This piece is one of the highlights of the album, especially if one worships at the altar of ‘Shoe-less Steve’ and, let’s face it, many of us do!
High Tide floats us back very much into Floydian oceans with swathes of keyboards and masses of Mellotron across its ten minutes, then receding to piano notes adrift in a sea of synths and ocean sound effects. Eventually, a Gilmour-esque guitar solo lifejacket is thrown in by Baptiste Desmares (like you knew it would be) to rather gorgeously (if predictably) take us toward the shore on waves of heroic guitar crescendos and tremendous drums, a lone piano notes depositing us on the sand. High Tide is a beautiful piece of Floydian homage, but in truth these are very, very familiar waters. Thankfully, Chameleon changes their appearance with a quirkier piece of staccato guitar and spasmodic but smooth vocals playing against the theme, seemingly symbolising the tension between what we are and what others want us to be… which seems ironic given the nature of the first trio of songs. When Goude repeatedly sings “Who should I be now?” I wanted to respond “I know you’re very good at it, but perhaps try not to be Pink Floyd or Steven Wilson!!”
Chameleon changes its skin half way through and a silky, fluid synth solo slithers around the main melody – it is really rather beautiful and captivating, transforming into a great organ led finale.
The Instrumental title track softly emerges in a swathe of cinematic synth washes and a hypnotic keyboard line. I could go on but I think you can guess where we’re heading with this one… some guitars float in and cymbals gently splash… and yeah, some Diamonds do indeed Shine!
It is interesting to note that the Bandcamp version of the album features an instrumental ‘Trip Hop Version’ of the final track, Still Far to Go. This subtle but groove-laden version is more engaging and refreshingly different from the rest of this rather overly Floydian album. For the main album version, Still Far To Go flows in gently on piano and a yearning and rather captivating voice (supported by some lovely harmony vocals). This rather melodic and stately piece gradually gathers momentum and Marc Anguill and Rodrigues weigh in heavily on bass and drums before we return to the main vocal melody, which increasingly draws you in with its wistful melancholy. Goude’s serpentine synth slithers and slides silkily over a receding conclusion, like the tide going out.
This album has perplexed me, in all honesty!
I was drawn to being a bit of a smart arse and concluding with the following:
England brought us the real thing with ‘Pink Floyd’.
Germany brought us their version with ‘RPWL’.
Norway brought us their take with ‘Airbag’.
Even Australia brought us an Antipodean view called, well, ‘The Australian Pink Floyd’!!
Now France brings us a French Floyd (‘Le Floyd Rose’?) called – ‘Esthesis’.
To be honest, as ‘smart arse’ as that trite conclusion may be, there’s a lot of truth in it for me. Even though Esthesis do it so well (and they really do, to be fair) this is an album which is also so obviously derivative of Pink Floyd, and if it’s not them, it’s Steven Wilson. Of course, all music is influenced by other artists, but it does not take a well-trained ear to hear just how much Esthesis are indebted to the Echoes of those happy chaps from Cambridge – Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright.
However… (I suspect you knew there’d be a ‘however’) in all fairness to Esthesis it has to be acknowledged that musically they show great promise on this album. These guys are certainly talented. As I have compared them to bands like RPWL and Airbag, it is probably also fair to acknowledge that those two fine bands have increasingly moved away from their original obvious Floyd blueprints. They have developed their own musical style, chiselling out their own distinctive identity – even if you’re never that far from a Floyd-themed live project from RPWL!
Therefore, what can be said in all certainty is that Esthesis have displayed great potential with this impressive and impeccably produced and performed debut. Indeed, many will LOVE this album precisely because it is SO Floydian in nature, but there is a touch of irony that the theme of the album is ‘Identity’. Let’s hope that as Esthesis move on in future and shed their more obvious influences and awaken more of their own distinctive Identity. They are definitely a band to keep an eye on as they grow in maturity and, hopefully, originality… we can have High Hopes for them One of These days as they still have Time! (😊)
01. Downstream (16:32)
02. No Soul To Sell (8:34)
03. High Tide (10:35)
04. Chameleon (8:07)
05. The Awakening (6:28)
06. Still Far To Go (9:28)
Total Time – 59:44
Aurelien Goude – Vocals, Keyboards, Lap Steel Guitar, Bass Guitar
Baptiste Desmares – Lead Guitar
Marc Anguill – Bass Guitar
Florian Rodrigues – Drums
Mathilde Collet – Additional Backing Vocals (track 6)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 14th November 2020
– Raising Hands (EP) (2019)
– The Awakening (2020)