Espers are from Philadelphia like Funkadelic are from Detroit, representing their respective cities through a winking act of negation. When Espers II comes alive with the eight-minute Zeppelin-esque dirge “Dead Queen,” you realize two things: The similarity isn’t just in the album title gag, and 75 percent of bands that emulate the stoned-and-staring-at-smoldering-open-air-fires feeling with slightly noisy, droning Celtic-style folk probably live in places where you couldn’t get away with lighting an open-air fire.
This is a definite step up from the all-pall-and-no-pulse feel that made Espers’ 2004 self-titled album too stuffy. It’s also a lot heavier, prog-influenced, and louder, without sacrificing any of the band’s prettiness: Greg Weeks’ Moog birdsongs and crystalline fingerpicking, or the vocal fluttering of Meg Baird. And even though songs are long and occasionally meandering, Espers II is always coherent—folk, sure, but not exactly “free-folk” or even particularly progressive. For all its cosmic portent, it’s as safe an escape as Dungeons & Dragons; keep in mind that definite forebear Fairport Convention actually had a song called “It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only Black Magic.”
Espers play the Mercury Lounge with Brightblack Morning Light on Friday at 9:30, $10-$12, mercuryloungenyc.com.