ESMA - The Lost/Last Atoms

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2012-03-09

Eugenio Squarcia aka ESMA is still in his 20s but has already been compared to the likes of Phillip Glass and Brian Eno. That's one heavy-weight of expectation right there but The Lost Atoms (or The Last Atoms - the cover makes the title ambiguous) doesn't shrink from the challenge. It's a challenging, beautiful and reassuringly self-assured album. ESMA has released lots of other music (look at his Bandcamp page), but the hour of music contained on The Lost Atoms will be my introduction to this young composer's musical vision.

The opening track 'Autarky of the Water' starts with a lone piano before gentle guitar parts and sleigh bells come in; there's a sleepy, graceful beauty at play here. When slow drums come in around the halfway mark, it's stunning. Not everything on The Lost Atoms is this easy to love though. Next up, 'Where Light Is Dim' is a brief piece with short, sharp string arrangements that leads into the Phillip Glass-via-fairground waltz of 'The White Road'. 'Somewhere 6am' starts with the sound of waves lapping on a shore, cars in the distance, unintelligible background voices. It's perhaps a generic comment to make about an instrumental album, but The Lost Atoms is a genuinely cinematic record; the music hinting at early mornings, long drives and the ethereal calm brought on by the imminent dusk. Let's just say it's an atmospheric record and certainly one that gets your imagination going.

'To a Child Dancing in the Wind' (performed by Jacques Lazzari) is a broken sounding, melancholic piano piece whose rough recording reminds me of Radiohead's 'How I Made My Millions' (a 'No Surprises' b-side - seek it out). This short piece is followed by the album's 16-minute centrepiece, the sprawling, brooding and majestic 'No Place for Love and Dream at All'. The piece moves through tense, nocturnal atmospherics and subtle Kraftwerk influences; the repetition of the track becoming hypnotic after a while. You can definitely hear the influence of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Phillip Glass here; suddenly those flatting comparisons make a lot of sense.

The dramatic string arrangements on 'Edge of Reason and the Age of Prudence' actually remind of the music on Candyman (another Phillip Glass reference point); it's suitably unsettling. There's even more Glass-esque moments with 'Xibalba (the Central Atom)'; the electronic aspects of this track in particular could have come straight out of Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance. The track actually has its own music-video and its home footage of the seaside juxtaposed with busy, suburban scenes recreates some of the atmosphere from the epic Godfrey Reggio/Phillip Glass collaboration.

Next up, 'The Shell' proves to be one of the more challenging pieces as it see-saws through eight disorientating minutes before 'Two Swans Came Flying Up to Him' reintroduces dense, heavy string arrangements. It's genuinely baffling to think that ESMA is still so young when you're listening to compositions like this. 'Like a Storm in a Bathtub' is a playful electronic piece with strings which walks a fine line between genius and insanity (Basically, it'll either drive you up the wall or have you gawping in approval- I'm kind of inbetween the two).

'A Window on J's Heart' features constantly looping electronics and again is maddeningly impressive. There's definitely links to be drawn between ESMA and ex-Hood composer Gareth S Brown; two modern composers who fall somewhere between the avant-garde and classical worlds. The album closes with 'Approaching the Pneumatic Void', which breaks up the hectic pace of the last few tracks with a gentle, minimal piano piece.

The Lost Atoms often veers between the sublime and the maddening, but it's the album's mix of the calm, melancholic pieces and the more challenging compositions which makes for such an intriguing listen. Squarcia is clearly a very talented man and in The Lost Atoms he's created something of a flawed masterpiece; for this he deserves your attention.

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