Vital Creatures by ESSi

ESSi | Vital Creatures
Ramp Local (LP/CD/DL)

Brooklyn duo Essi’s debut album Vital Creatures is an impressive first offering. The duo consisting of virtuoso guitarist and vocalist Jessica Ackerley and drummer Rick Daniel escorts the listener through 14 tracks that confound genres. I am hard-pressed to categorize the music contained here, moods shift, tones weave in and out. NY jazz scene veteran Ackerley (Jazz Bras Dot Com, various jazz and avant ensembles) shines on every track. Her angular, sharp guitar riffs cut through the songs contrasting with her ethereal vocals. Daniel supplants his precise drumming with electronics that take the music even further sometimes in duo mode with Ackerley’s pedals. 

Opening track Marimba sets the tone for the album. Daniel’s tom heavy approach keeps the track grounded which gives Ackerley the chance to assault the listener with maybe the most impressive guitar on the album. Her voice starts angelic and ends with banshee intensity.  While the opening track makes favorable comparisons to early Battles work through a new wave blender, second track and single Pines And Cones shifts abruptly into post punk and even noise rock territory. Daniel’s drums shift into straight up Killing Joke territory while Ackerley enjoys some riffs that would make the staunchest listener’s head nod. 

There is just so much to like here. The album is interspersed with short interludes that expertly bridge the songs together. 0202 is a soundscape that would fit in well in a science fiction film. Eerie drones give way to computerized electronics that close out the track. Another short interlude that works well is the noise laden 0102 with Daniels’ electronics and Ackerley’s feedback keeping the noise heads and avant folks happy. Noise figures prominently as the duo bookends the tracks Pads and Seams with a cacophonous couple of minutes. 

Jessica Ackerley wears so many hats on this album. She seems able to expertly pull off avant noodlings, jazz chords but also riffs that would make Duane Denison proud, all in the span of a single song. Her otherworldly and alien textures are perfectly contrasted with riff heavy guitar acrobatics. The genre hopping in lesser hands might come off as confusing or disorienting but Ackerley pulls it off so adeptly that it almost seems natural. What was most surprising was given the fact that her guitar goes in so many genres and directions you would think her vocal repertoire would be more limited or grounded. You would be wrong. Her voice is comfortably all over the place, from chant along rockers such as Fly By, the soft vulnerability on Marimba, the experimentalism of Breathing or even some pop sensibilities sprinkled throughout. Drummer Rick Daniel also seems to know exactly when to support Ackerley and when to push the music forward. The duo work so well together and do so much in the span of the song, if you didn’t know any better you would think this was 3-4 musicians. The absence of a low end bassist is not missed at all.

Sonically, there is just so much to focus on. The music is never boring, the listening experience is always treated with new sounds and sensations. ESSi blends the best of two sometimes disparate worlds. It is smart enough to keep higher minded music fans happy but it rocks out enough to keep chest beating noise rock aficionados happy. This is quite simply one of the best albums of the year and I am sure you will be seeing this entry in many year end top 10 lists. 


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