A sumptuous musical feast. In many respects we have come to expect nothing less from ESP Project; luscious layers of exquisitely textured melodies are the hallmarks of the beautifully refined musical experiences with which each release alluringly embraces and caresses you. Anarchic Curves, their sixth studio album, is a joyful celebration as well as evolution of the delicious soundstages within which the band’s creativity finds a natural organic expression.
That element of reassuring continuity bids us a warm welcome with Luminous. A leisurely, languid and chilled opening, carries playful lyrics referencing classic prog albums (count them!) before engagingly changing it up to a brisk, almost jazz funk fusion passage with magnificent pulsating bass line, transitioning to a calming yet buoyant grand end segment carrying layers of keys and synths, rounded out with guitar and crashing drums.
So far, so good. Yet it’s not long before we face the realisation something new is emerging within the familiar symphonic landscape. Still Lives of John Lennon begins with another wonderful, mesmerising undulating bass line supporting a light, floating melody. This time, however, it is the drums which are given centre stage in the mix, often appearing on their own to mark the segues between passages.
An arresting and fully textured refrain along with a haunting vocal changes to an offkey passage at the 3:50 mark, introducing discordant, troubled sequences which eventually resolve into a soothing keyboard and lavish choral segue. A gloriously brief guitar intrudes at unexpected moments, suggestive but not dominating, leading to an assertive conclusion. This is a disconcerting new string added to the ESP bow: a song beginning to demonstrate the existence of – and wield – an uncomfortable element of bite and attack.
Such unexpected evolution progresses further with Cogs. A consistently different atmosphere takes a firm hand on proceedings; heavier, darker, laden at times with frightening lyrical cynicism. “Imagination’s dead / Bleach out every single inspiration”. The style of the music changes to match: the playing is more precise, almost abrupt to accompany intense, shifting moods. We are offered fleeting salvation with a lovely laconic guitar outro, the dying spark punctuating an airy soundscape before losing the battle and becoming buried within it.
The descent and dissolution, however, is not finished there. The Dead Dark of Lollipops continues the lyrical brutalism which now carries all the momentum.
Of its dark lust dreams
They love the lies
They are happy in the system now
Realities are locked
Social media is god.”
Imagination, curiosity, all are gone, “hijacked and hypnotised / The wonder that’s monetised”.
Desolation is not far away. Invisible Ricochets may well supply the joy of some timely and inspired guitar interjections, but the net effect is simple: the world is so much bigger than us. Finally, we hit rock bottom with Shoreless. The song is up tempo but utterly soulless, devoid of imagination, mechanical, stiff, menacing, dark. We’ve ripped out the pulsing heartbeat of life itself. The monotonous robotic vocal signals the triumph of the machines and the death of the human spirit.
Yet just as the sun appears to vanish, Moon Dust shines a glimmer of light in the cold icy darkness. “It’s in the DNA / Art’s not going away”. Life, spirit, joy is indomitable. “It’s the unword / Art isn’t scared”. This triumphant resurgence gets its glorious unveiling in Entangled Stories. The music is sprightly once more, a skipping guitar with luscious harmonies; “Every single one of us / Is the dynamite of new shapes / Symmetries and shadow play / There are no structures there are no chains”.
It might feel as if the universe is vast and we are nothing; it may feel like we are at the anarchic, random will of events and circumstances. We may be pummelled and crushed, brutalised and oppressed. But at the heart of it all, there is an unceasing, unconquerable creativity beating at the pulsing heart of the human spirit; “It’s in our blood to create”.
Here we reach the absolute triumph of Anarchic Curves. “We are the wall of sound / Entangled stories / Entangled stories / Singing out”. So long as we are here, so long as our stories are told and retold and retold, sung from the depths of our hearts, then life, art, music – what it is to be human – will always win.
The luscious layers return in all their glory, opulent in their richness, heavenly in the comfort in which they entwine us and carry us along. As the song draws to an end, there is not simply tranquillity – there is also peace. “Every single one of us / Is the future abstract in the clouds”. Not just peace. It took me a while to find the word which remained at the periphery of my mind as I listened and relistened to this album. Dignity.
Anarchic Curves is, in the end, a magnificent exaltation of the greatness of the human spirit. The music lovingly encircles and nestles against us with poise, with grace and with delicate finesse. It is a magical album which casts an enthralling spell the longer you spend in its presence. It is certainly time well spent.
01. Luminous (6:25)
02. Still Lives Of John Lennon (9:12)
03. Cogs (6:47)
04. The Dead Dark Of Lollipops (7:00)
05. Invisible Ricochets (6:19)
06. Shoreless (4:44)
07. Moon Dust (5:51)
08. Entangled Stories (9:05)
Total Time – 55:23
Tony Lowe – Guitars, Keyboards, Music
Peter Coyle – Vocals, Keyboards, Lyrics & Concept
Pete Clark – Bass
Dave Etheridge – Drums
Cheryl Stringall – Additional Keyboards
Record Label: Sunn Creative
Formats: CD (SUNNC2201), Digital
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 29th April 2022