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aurora (mada002)       

if only a sweet surrender to
the nights to come be true

Stylus Magazine
Reviewed by: Ben Wilson

With the release of Esmerine’s impressive 2003 debut, If Only a Sweet Surrender to the Nights to Come Be True, multi-instrumentalists Beckie Foon and Bruce Cawdron added another strand of horsehair to the Godspeed collective’s already bulging bow. Since the exclamation mark migrated westwards on the back of the bleak and wordless Yanqui U.X.O, the focus has shifted onto the side-projects and associated acts of the apocalyptic Canadian coterie: namely Efrim’s increasingly vocal-driven Silver Mt. Zion reincarnations, the percussion-loaded avant-gardism of Roger’s Fly Pan Am, and the frightening, chaotic ambience of the thirteen-strong Set Fire to Flames. Esmerine’s starkly beautiful follow-up, Aurora, deserves to be given as much attention as her equally tormented older brothers. Over the course of forty minutes and six movements Foon and Cawdron et al provide a dirgeful opus of clevises, cowbells, and weeping, sawing strings; a cycle of loss—a soundtrack to the world’s end.
Aurora opens with “Quelques Mots Pleins D'ombre,” an exquisite piece driven by interlaced cellos that build ever so slowly amidst bass guitar and delicately fingered piano, eventually reaching a crescendo in front of urgent drumming and thrashed cymbals. The track serves as a forlorn prelude to its epic succeeder, “Histories Repeating as 1000 Hearts Mend,” a near on seventeen-minute threnody that follows in the mould of its predecessor; a relentlessly sombre march between colonnades of marimba, hubcaps, and sleigh bells. The comparatively short “Mados” leads the listener into a loggia featuring Aurora’s more experimental second half, commencing with the delicate, pianistic grandeur of “Why She Swallows Bullets and Stones.” The traditional instrumentation that initiates the piece gradually becomes entangled with conflicting, grinding noise before it frees itself and fades into the foreboding atmospherics of “Ebb Tide, Spring Tide, Neap Tide, Flood” wherein a series of windblown bells and chimes hang and clangour ominously from decaying, static-infested eaves as the hissing, climactic release of “Le Rire de L'ange” prepares to conclude the album.
Esmerine’s Aurora is the sound of nations grinding to a halt as the dust settles from the final explosion of the final piece of nuclear ordnance. It is the sound of the meek waiting timidly in stripped shells of burning cars for the intrusions of cockroaches to abate. It is the sound of a loved one passing away, the sound of a marriage disintegrating; it is the sound of unrequited love. It is the sound of losing one’s sight; the sound of morphine overdoses and pethidine dreams. Yet, despite the sadness, there is an underlying beauty at work so immense that one cannot help but be drawn in and enveloped.

Delusions of Adequacy
Reviewed by: Eric McPhail

Admittedly, I first discovered Godspeed You! Black Emperor after seeing various online zines rave about the band. The descriptions went beyond what I could imagine, so I bought into the hype and purchased Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! on a whim. The online sites raved about its genius post-rock qualities while actual word-of-mouth reports were “really weird, but in a good way.” The first time I heard the album, I was three Newcastle’s in and playing RA3 in my apartment. The further I got into the album, the less I paid attention to the game. By the end of the first disc I had walked away from the computer entirely and just sat on my couch amazed by what I heard. These Canadians knew the world was fucked, and they decided to make some ghastly chamber music for the ride down. Rock. So, like any fiend with cash at hand, I ended up investing in the band's other albums and side projects. Now, Beckie Foon and Bruce Cawdron from the Godspeed collective have released their own moody tangent under the name Esmerine. Aurora is a gorgeously somber classical piece for folks who find Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” either overplayed or just too damn uplifiting.
“Quelques Mots Pleins d’Ombre” (a few shadowy words) opens with heart wrenching cello from Foon. Describing this particular type of music is akin to writing a paragraph description of Bosch’s Hell. It's really meant to be heard, not read. Gentle piano seeps in along with glockenspiel to give the opening piece a mournful “after the violence and bloodshed” mood. Really, one could give multiple images and scenarios to this work. This is an album for contemplative listening, nighttime driving alone, or to play in funeral procession. Five minutes in, Cawdron’s drums enter and the piece hints at taking off into the maniacal dervishes that GYBE is infamous for. However, Cawdron and Foon allow the tension to bubble just below the surface. The track never explodes into an outright raucous jam, but that only heightens the paranoia.
“Historics Fepeating as One Thousand Hearts Mend” is the most Godspeed of the tracks. Easily the anchor, it’s 16 minutes of claustrophobic oppressive music for post-apocalyptic candlelight dinners. Never really peaking with fervor, it maintains a semblance of travel building from ominous tones into subtle slightly Arabic light percussion with rototom shells! This is perfect for a ghoulish belly-dance on a Friday night.
The rest of the album winds down into calmer waters. “Why She Swallows Bullets and Stones” is a beautiful piano piece that can almost be construed as uplifting, reminiscent of Moby’s “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” if Moby wasn’t so damn technocentric on that release. “Ebb Tide, Spring Tide, Neap Tide, Flood” is the only truly “experimental” (and how I loathe to use that word) portion of the album. Four minutes of chimes and sound effects, it’s not so much a song as it is a slight departure before “Le Rire de L’ange” (the laugh of the angel) closes out the album with tense coda. If this is indeed the sound of an angel’s laugh, then God does have a sick sense of humor.
For fans of Godspeed You Black Emperor and the various side projects therein, Esmerine is definitely something that needs to be heard. For others, this is a nice introduction to what this fun-loving group of Canadians is capable of creating. Obviously, not the best thing to play on a sunny day, but when that black-clad “odd” girl that works in your office is blaring The Cure in an attempt to flaunt her goff cred, you can totally blow her away with this. Next to Aurora, Smith’s catalog sounds like so much pop and circumstance. This is chamber music for people that enjoy low lights and oppressive foreign films - an excellent record.


Après plusieurs participations au sein des fameux voisins Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion et autres Set Fire To Flames, les comparses Beckie Foon et Bruce Cawdron enfantent en 2003 le duo Esmerine dont le premier album If Only a Sweet Surrender to the Nights to Come Be True (Resonant), remarquable et remarqué, scintille encore au-dessus de notre discothèque.
Depuis, deux années se sont écoulées et Esmerine revient les valises pleines de trésors chatouiller les oreilles d'auditeurs impatients d'en découdre. Aurora donc, deuxième opus du duo, se glisse silencieusement dans les bacs des disquaires. Dès le premier morceau, Quelques Mots Pleins d'Ombre, au titre évocateur, on reconnaît la patte du groupe, tout en délicatesse et en harmonie. La musique soyeuse, discrète et envoûtante à souhait, éveille les sens... et glace le sang. Car derrière la tranquillité de façade se cache un tourbillon d'émotions, à la fois funestes et grandiloquentes. Les boucles (nombreuses) accentuent la sensation de vertige et de perte d'équilibre. Tout va crescendo et tel un capitaine de navire, on tangue sans jamais chavirer. Le splendide Why She Swallows Bullets and Stones, ivre de douleur - oscillant entre Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Craig Armstrong et Yann Tiersen - semble annoncer la fin proche d'un groupe résigné et meurtri. L'apport d'autres musiciens (Mike Moya et Harris Newman de Hrsta, ainsi que Jessie Carrot de Jackie-O Motherfucker) repousse les limites techniques du duo. Et s'ils éclairent de mille feux les impressionnantes plaies de Bruce et Beckie, ils stabilisent un rafiot à la dérive, en pleine tempête.
Heureusement pour nous, la révolte gronde et Le Rire de l'Ange rameute tout le monde sur le pont, le couteau entre les dents. D'envolées lyriques en mélopées plaintives, Aurora s'apprivoise à la lueur des chandelles, en injection létale.

Music in Belgium

Le groupe canadien Esmerine, c’est Bruce Cawdron, percussions, connu pour ses travaux avec « Godspeed You! Black Emperor », et Beckie Foon, violoncelle, connu pour sa participation à « Set Fire to Flames » et « A Silver Mt. Zion ». Ils reçoivent l’aide de Harris Newman (HRSTA) pour le mastering et Howard Bilerman pour l’enregistrement. Ces derniers contribuent aussi à pallier des besoins occasionnels sur le plan instrumental.
Leur musique instrumentale alternative, entre post-rock et rock expérimental, est très largement inspirée du classique et comporte parfois des accents orientaux. Quarante minutes de musique à forte tendance cinématique arrangée pour violoncelle, batterie, glockenspiel, marimba, percussions mélodiques et nouveaux sons, sans que l’on sache très bien qui fait quoi.
Les autres instruments joués par Bruce Cawdron et Beckie Foon sont le violoncelle, les marimbas, la batterie, le glockenspiel et le piano ; ils frappent aussi sur des claves (on frappe avec le sticker sur le clave, sorte de bâton en bois), des cloches et des coquilles Roto Tom. L’accent est mis sur le climat général du morceau et pas sur les détails.
C’est par le violoncelle que commence « Quelques mots pleins d’ombre », un morceau très lent que l’on aurait tendance à associer aux cérémonies de commémoration des camps de concentration, tant la tension et l’émotion à fleur de peau sont perceptibles. Sur ce titre très émouvant, Harris Newman (HRSTA) joue de la basse et Jessie Carrot (Jackie-O Motherfucker) du metallophone et des percussions. La musique part en un crescendo qui atteint son paroxysme tout à la fin. Cela fait aussi penser à la musique de Henri Texier sur « Holy Lola », le film de Bertrand Tavernier, dont la chronique figure sur ce site. De là à la qualifier de musique pour génocide, il y a un pas à ne pas franchir. C’est une musique très belle et elle se suffit à elle-même.
Tout aussi magnifique, « Histories Repeating As One Thousand Hearts Mend » continue dans ce sens. C’est un très lent et très long morceau de bravoure qui évoque les sacrifices consentis au son du violoncelle, entrecoupé de percussions et de bruits divers parfois difficiles à identifier. Par exemple. Howard Bilerman joue des clochettes et tape sur un enjoliveur. Ce mélange de sons harmonieux, de percussions et d’effets électroniques, interrompu un instant par le violon, persiste pour se fondre en un bourdonnement déroutant par son pouvoir de persuasion et de pénétration dans le subconscient pour suggérer des images de détresse. Un tel savoir-faire musical force le respect.
Le très court « Mados » commence aussi, sur un tempo soutenu, par le violoncelle. Cet instrument généralement assez peu prisé donne pourtant des sons incomparables, comme c’est le cas sur cette musique répétitive qui se termine en une sorte de bourdonnement, comme celle de « inC » de Terry Riley, interprété de façon magistrale par DésAccordes.
Le piano joue les vedettes sur « Why She Swallows Bullets And Stones », une petite récréation destinée à faire tomber un peu la tension, tant les nerfs ont été soumis à rude épreuve sur les morceaux précédents. Harris Newman y joue discrètement de la guitare.
C’est au son des cloches que résonne « Ebb Tide, Spring Tide, Neap Tide, Flood », autre morceau destiné à rétablir l’ordre et la paix dans le village par flux et reflux successifs qui créent une dynamique permanente. C’est ce son apaisant qui prépare le dernier titre.
Pour terminer, « Le rire de l’ange » revient à des préoccupations plus terre à terre symbolisées par des sons plus nerveux et animés, avec des percussions à caractère tribal. Ici, c’est Mike Moya (HRSTA) qui joue de la guitare. Le calme est revenu dans le village, la vie normale a repris ses droits.
Cet album situé aux confins du rock est de toute beauté. D’aspect classique, il en rebutera plus d’un et c’est très dommage car il mérite la plus grande attention. Mais c’est bien connu : les absents ont toujours tort. En tout cas, ce groupe canadien est bien plus qu’une promesse et il montre ici un immense savoir-faire.

Reviewed by: Robert Sanders

Okay, I’ll get this over with.
Yes, Aurora is another instrumental record linked to several Montreal bands and the sometimes irritating connotations that come with it. Yes, occasionally ridiculous genre phrases such as chamber-rock, post-rock, art-rock, cello-rock and numerous other stupid rock-isms have been attached to Esmerine. And finally, yes, the myriad of lazy clichés normally trotted out about this ‘scene’ - epic, mournful, apocalyptic, etc. - have often been used to describe Esmerine’s music.
All of this serves only to belittle the sheer majesty of this album. Like the exquisite new Silver Mt. Zion and Hangedup records, Aurora should silence any naysayers claiming things have become stale in the state of Kanada.
Following their portentously (pretentiously?) titled debut If Only A Sweet Surrender To the Nights To Come Be True, Aurora is the second album from Esmerine. The band, on this record, consists of Beckie Foon and Bruce Cawdron (plus assorted rattlers, shakers, tappers and whistlers from Hrsta & Jackie-O-Motherfucker). Both are paid up members of the Constellation mafioso with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Silver Mt. Zion and Set Fire To Flames. Intriguingly, the Esmerine records have as much in common with fellow sonic travellers Rachels and Dirty Three as they do their Canadian contemporaries. Over the course of the album they demonstrate a totally captivating mix of modern classical, with a wee dash of drone, rock and folk melodies.
Managing to sidestep the baggage that comes with any GY!BE associations these days, Esmerine have mostly ignored the rock-with-classical-dynamics and vice versa. What you get instead are forty, perfectly arranged minutes of beautiful, warm, melancholy music played predominantly on cello and percussion with added chimes, piano, sleigh bells and washes of tranquil droning, static and noise.
Melody is the key here, immediate from the first track “Quelques Mots Pliens D’hombre” and drifting continuously through the remainder of the album.
Aurora is much less intellectually difficult and more aesthetically immediate than many of the records associated with this motley crew, thanks in part to the length. Most of my favourite albums could fit on one side of a C90 tape, for those young enough to remember the pre-CDR days. While it’s not exactly “Dead” by Napalm Death or early Husker Du, considering the circles Esmerine play in, there is a definite economy to Esmerine as a whole – one word band & album name, reasonably short running time, songs less than twenty minutes in length. I sometimes feel there’s a danger of lapsing into self-parody when it takes the same time to read through a bands name, album title and track listing as it does to listen to the actual album.
But mainly the genius here lies in the rich harmonious vein running through all 6 tracks. The sound is sparse and intimate, relying on a more contemplative mood rather than the overwhelming, oppressive wall of noise used by many of their contemporaries. Particularly on “Why She Swallows Bullets And Stones” one of the more sedate songs which knits piano, cello and feedback together over a mesmerizing five minutes.
Some perverse part of me wants to find something wrong with Aurora. Truth be told, this is one of few albums to wake me from my ATP Melvins reverie . . . since February. Yes, it is that damn good.
The record closes with “Le Rire De L’ange”. A throbbing, pulsating cello riff (if there is such a thing) and rattling, kinetic drums in the background perhaps indicate there is heavier ordnance waiting to be unleashed on future releases. God knows these increasingly cynical ears need more of this kind of thing.
Hopefully Esmerine will get the recognition they deserve, not as the Constellation side project they’re sporadically tagged with. It’s classical for those who don’t listen to Radio 4. Ignore anyone who tells you this is background music because there is no singer, lyrics or paint by numbers verse chorus verse song structure to focus on. Right now Esmerine are flawless. And beautifully packaged.
Did I mention I liked this?

Reviewed by: Russell E. Scott

1) "A phenomenon occurring in the night sky around the polar regions, caused by atmospheric gases interacting with solar particles to create streamers, folds, or arches of colored light".
2) "The dawn, usually personified or regarded, as in classical literature, as a goddess".
3) The new CD by Esmerine, the multi-instrumentalist duo from Canada - Beckie Foon and Bruce Cawdron of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Silver Mt. Zion, ad infiinitum, etc. fame and fortune.
4) A cataclysmic, sonic soundscape orchestrated in six parts as one whole. Expertly executed by percussion and string instruments to achieve a moving, profound statement and interpretations on life themes. Immediate and brooding, while simultaneously, passionate and melancholy. Beautiful isn't meant to be pretty as the musical journey taken here is not about entertainment, but delivery of a very necessary message. Aurora is an intelligent, emotional, and thought provoking ambient, post-rock symphony. The CD packages are each handmade and custom crafted as a glimpse and extraordinary view of a possible brave new world if we save the one we live in. The gift is in its enduring simplicity.

Second Layer Records

Strongest release in a long time from members of the Montreal collective. Esmerine is the duo of Bruce Cawdron and Beckie Foon, best known for their work with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Set Fire to Flames, and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band but here we have a much more intimate album and one that reminds us of these artists level of musicianship. Beautiful close-miked cello playing that holds every sonic detail of bow-on-string right up to your face. The second track in particular is an incredible, almost drone like, deep bowed work-out. Subtle melodic percussion, marimba, glockenspiel and drums accompany throughout and even some delicate piano comes in on a later track but for the most part this is a very stripped down album, one that is all the more impressive considering the amount of other musicians present: Mike Moya (Hrsta), Harris Newman (solo, Hrsta), Jessie Carrot (Jackie-O Motherfucker) and Howard Bilerman. Comes in gorgeous packaging too. Recommended.