PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Bierk
Small Talk is available via:
The album, Righteous Woman, is available via:
25th May, 2018
PART of the reason…
I have been a bit angry recently – if my posts seem a bit firmer and more spiked – is the lack of female artists coming my way. I have been looking around and, when it comes to P.R. labels that send artists my way; it is disappointing to see the statistics: around 80% of all the submissions I get relate to men. I am not great at maths but the world of new music is not that male-heavy: there are just as many women as there are men. It is baffling why labels and P.R. firms recruit men or put them up for submission; do women feel they will not get a fair deal if they go to firms or are they better off representing themselves?! It is a subject I will touch on later today and, hopefully, arrive at some conclusions. I mention this because For Esmé, alongside a lot of other female artists, are rallying against sexism and expectations. It seems the songwriter’s name – perhaps named for the short story by J.D. Salinger where a sergeant meets with a young girl before being sent to war – is apt when it comes to Salinger and the scenes he painted. There is romance and battle; there is division and the need for improvement – having to cope alone at times, too. I will talk about For Esmé’s new album and the sort of themes being explored; why her music and artistry fascinates me; bringing other players and voices into the mix; why artists like For Esmé have the potential to go a long way; Toronto and why the city is bursting with promise – I will look at what the music world needs in order to progress. Let’s look at the first subject, For Esmé’s, and what Righteous Woman possesses. The record is designed to portray the modern, progressive and open-minded woman and all the challenges that come with that. Martha Meredith (For Esmé’s’ voice and lead) explores self-love and sufficiency; why the inner-voice and sense of courage are more important than the limitations placed by society.
The album itself mixes the personal and socially-aware. There is a nod to political corners and accusations; confessions and revelations that lets the listener in. Whilst I am not going to review the entire album; it has been interesting looking at the songs and what they represent. For Esmé looks at permission and being allowed to speak; why following the rules of others can be confining; how there are these rules and boundaries placed on modern women – the strike against patriarchy and why strength and courage are important. The record, as I say, is personal and looks at the heroine’s struggles, determination and anger she faces. There are general themes that look at feminism and sexism but, like her moniker, it is literary and fascinating. Songs flow and shine with tenderness; there are rousing strings moments and that blend of light and dark. What stuns me is how the ten tracks (on the album) all have their own skin and separate identity. Every track has its own momentum but they all hang together beautifully. Most tracks are around three or four minutes and the titles are either one or two-worded. It is a rich and rewarding listen that demands repeated study – an album perfect for every mood, season and time. I will move on to a new topic but, in closing, I wanted to urge people to listen to the album and listen to it closely. It is personal in nature but the biggest reaction one gets is that universal and inspiring sound that tackles issues and problems and provides something compelling and substantial. For Esmé gets under the skin and provides songs that make the listener think and look at the world as a whole; settle the bones and make the mind swim. It is wonderful seeing the young artist/band grow and get stronger with every release. I have been following For Esmé’s work for a little while now and can see how strong Martha Meredith has grown as a songwriter. Dave Thiel and James Bunton co-write and co-perform. Although Thiel and Bunton are important cogs and elements in the mix; it is the strength and colour of Martha Meredith that radiates and remains. It is that collaborative nature, mind, that compels discussion.
PHOTO CREDIT: Vanessa Heins
The Toronto-based artist has worked with Thiel and Bunton and there is deep and collaborative work to show from it. There are some fantastic players that appear on Righteous Woman and it is a great team effort. Although For Esmé’s core help shape the songs and get the record out there; one cannot discount the way every artist on the record adds their personality. The strings that appear add grace and delicacy; there is that strength and rousing passion that arrives in various moments. I am seeing a lot of solo artists and duos that tend to write rather basic and sparse songs. They may be able to create something interesting and deep with acoustic guitar and simple arrangements but I find adding extra elements can expand songs and result in extra nuance. There is never the overriding sensation, on the album, that it is all challenge and blaming those around. For Esmé shows a comfort with being in her own skin and Martha Meredith talks about having her own thoughts and not being ruled by others. Of course, you get that tackling of the status quo and whether we should be following blindly. That conflict and complex cocktail is examined and fleshed out by incredible musicians and writers. Our heroine has that incredible voice and lyrical determination; mixing that with the studied and exceptional players means you get this rewarding banquet and striking brew. Each song, as I said, has its own D.N.A. and voice. Many albums have sound-alike songs and creates little distinction. On Righteous Woman, you have these narratives and chapters that, returning to J.D. Salinger, seems to be part of a bigger picture. It is not a concept album, per se, but each song seems to look at various elements of society, feminism and the self. I am happy with the music out there and what we have before us: seeing For Esmé come through and produce an album like Righteous Woman stands aside and makes you linger and ponder.
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura-Lynn Petrick
I want to look at Martha Meredith and her individual strength but, before then, I will spotlight the music on the album and why the compositions and lyrics mesh together so effectively. A lot of artists have a talent for words or music: few manage to put them together so beautifully and have that overall genius. I want to bring in a few artists For Esmé reminds me of and why that should give a lot of spark and hope. Listen to tracks To Love and For Others and there is that combination of sprite/energised and swooning/calm. Songs go from gorgeous and entranced to racing without much warning. It might be hard, in lesser hands, to control that gear-shift but Martha Meredith and her band manage to ride the waves and provide something exceptional. Maybe they have been playing together for years – I should have checked my facts! – but it is amazing hearing that intuition and sense of connection between everyone. The production is fantastic and songs stay in the mind for a very long time. So much music today has limitations and songs seem to pass by and rush through. Even those designed to endure can disappear quicker than you’d hope. What you get with Righteous Woman is a record designed to settle in the brain and keep the listener coming back. It has that drug-like quality but, rather than offering a quick high and easy rush; you get something educational, revealing and luscious. I have been hooked on the album and every song on there. Although I am concentrating on Small Talk; you need to look at For Esmé in terms of the ten tracks that appear on the new album. For Esmé’s lead steps out and lets her voice paint a world of wonder and bring the listener into the fold. You are involved in the songs and follow them. It is a physical and spiritual experience that amazes and touches the senses.
Confection and confession sit alongside one another on an L.P. that addresses the inner-voices and doubts and brings them to the surface. It is strength and overriding motivation that highlights itself. I am hooked by Martha Meredith because she knows what changes need to be made in the world and how we can create a more balanced and progressive space. Rather than protest and sermonise; we have a songwriter who lets people in and has that accessible nature. The songs are fun and physical but that never cheapens the mood. I am reminded of modern-day icons like Joan As Police Woman and Laura Marling. Those two may seem very different on paper but the Connecticut legend (Joan As Police Woman) and British youngster (Laura Marling) are songwriters that challenge the established order and do so intelligently and consistently. I am more drawn to Laura Marling and her approach to music. Listen to For Esmé and the way the notes and musical elements flow into the foreground. The voice, in fact, of Martha Meredith reminds me of Laura Marling. There is that balance of young and mature; songs that are exceptionally developed and thoughtful. I am not comparing the two because it diminishes For Esmé and what is being produced: it is a compliment that shows why Martha Meredith and crew deserve a bigger platform. I get a sense there is stardom and a big future in store for her and the band. What I sense is developing success and that opportunity to get to the forefront. Maybe mainstream assimilation will take a few years to come but it seems like For Esmé will get to the top a lot quicker than their peers. Martha Meredith is a songwriter who can work with others but knows where she is heading. You get the feeling she is not going to rest until she is playing on the biggest stages and able to bring her music to the masses.
I am compelled by her because you have a strong-minded woman with natural talent. There is incredible beauty and power that comes from her; a knowing of what the market needs and how a musician should deliver. I feel a lot of artists are too commercial or seem to take from a book of clichés. You might get lumpen lines and trite exchanges; some rather mediocre expressions and lines that have been recycled by many others. This is not the case of For Esmé. Rather than give us a rather boring and routine album; we have that multi-coloured and challenging aspect. Songs are thought-through and you can hear the detail that goes into them. Each player and element on the album is crucial and everyone gets equal weight. It has that collaborative degree but one radiates towards the lead. It is that voice and passion one gets that stays in the mind. I may be repeating words and terms here but it is for good reason. It is hard to avoid the brilliance and standout characteristics of a phenomenal artist. I will move on to other themes soon but, before I get there, let us look at For Esmé and Martha Meredith. I have attached myself to some artists from the current market but many of them, sadly, go out of the mind. It is not their fault at all: the music world is so busy and changing, it is difficult remaining focused and keeping people in the heart. There is so much about the Canadian songwriter that makes me come back. It is a teasing and enticing kiss that rattles around the brain and leaves its taste in the brain. You have music that gets into the blood and does something wonderful. Every performance is committed and delivered with nothing less than utmost attention and meaning. The writing is sharp and, aided by assured and commanding production, Righteous Woman is a spellbinding album from a singular talent.
Toronto seems to be one of those hidden areas that is showing its skin. I say ‘hidden’ but that is only due to the naivety of the international press. If it were not for the artists (from there) who come my way, I wonder whether I would ever know about the area and why it is so amazing. Canada as a whole is stacked with awesome musicians who warrant wider acclaim. I am familiar with Ontario and all the variation one gets there. Hamilton and Montreal have come to my view lately; I am getting some great suggestions from Ottawa and right across the West Coast of the country. Toronto seems to be the leader of Canadian music. It is a vast and diverse landscape that seems to inspire musicians that live there. If London’s motivation comes from its eclectic population and history; Toronto seems to cause wonder because of its landscape and the nature of the people. There is a different vibe here and you cannot overlook the role of the people on the music. The population is friendly and humanitarian (for the most part); there is a native egalitarianism and warmth that helps calm the mind and get you into that creative headspace. The folk are kind and interesting and, aside from the odd rogue element, it is a place you feel safe and connected. I am interesting studying the link between a city/area and how its demographic enforces a particular sound. One can certainly make a case to suggest Toronto’s population and geography leads to wonderful music. I am not sure how long For Esmé has been based in the city but it seems to be a great place to make music and get it out there. In terms of venues and spaces, there are bigger ones like Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and sports arenas; you get Massey Hall and Dakota Tavern; Lee’s Palace and Phoenix Concert Theatre; Baby G and Rebel; The Music Gallery and Lula Lounge. I can go on forever – check out https://www.blogto.com/slideshows/best-live-music-venues-toronto/ for more venues – but it shows what a wealth of great performance spaces there are.
PHOTO CREDIT: Vanessa Heins
I feel Toronto is flourishing where cities like London are starting to fail. Venues in the capital are having mixed fortunes right now. Some of the bigger areas are surviving but there is always the risk of places closing down. Modern bands and artists have reliable and ‘safe’ venues to go to: there are so many that have shaky legs and narrowing wallets. I guess that is the same for Toronto but you get the feeling the government there is more willing to subside live music and provide a financial bail-out for any venues that struggle. Coming back to For Esmé and it seems like it is a great location to make music. You have that varied live music scene and there are so many talented peers who can offer supporting slots and guidance. It is that open market and rich history that feeds into the soul of the city and promises growth. It is important if you are surrounded by prosperity and promise. Those musicians who live in a rather busy and challenging part of the world are producing the best music. If you are surrounded by mixed fortunes and venues that are closing; this can affect the mindset and have a damaging shock on the music. Looking forward and I would like to see Toronto brought more into the international forum. I am aware of the artists who play there but there are so many more that get overlooked and forgotten. For Esmé is one of the strongest forces in Toronto and I wonder whether they will remain there. Will Martha Meredith and her players come to the U.K. or relocate to the U.S. anytime at all? Maybe New York will provide more of a stable and chance for riches. I am seeing Canadian artists relocate because they do not get the same acclaim as their U.S. peers. That is no slight at the city of Toronto and a sense of anonymity. The media is responsible for pushing the music of a place and I feel there is a naivety from the U.S. and U.K. that needs to be redressed.
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura-Lynn Petrick
There is, pleasingly, the sound of the 1980s in the opening notes of Small Talk. That line might provoke images of huge hair and naff clothing; cheesy Pop and Morrissey swinging his gladioli around the stage like a stabbed poet – I am looking, more, at the credible music and artists like New Order. The bubbling and burbling electronics have that nostalgic and retro edge but there is a distinct emotional conviction that puts it in the modern day. What I mean is (the notes) are tailored to the present time and are not meant to mimic what has come before. I was given that rush of remembrance and hints of the 1980s but, if anything, the combination of beats and electronics produces a fascinating figure you worship and lust after. The heroine comes to the microphone and elongates her words. As opposed to the fast-paced and cascading nature of the composition; the words are stretched and given semi-operatic quality. She asks whether you/we have died beneath the hollowness of deep space. If you mind goes there literally then that might provoke different imagery. To me, I was looking at passions and conversational awkwardness. Maybe an haphazard meeting or the routine or being with someone – where things dry out and it seems like the spark has gone. Martha Meredith, as a lyricist, creates lines that compel interpretation and have that poetic edge. She asks whether we dare find solitude and loneliness down in deep space. I was entranced by the vocal power – that brought to mind PJ Harvey and Florence Welch – but tried to untangle those images. Are we talking about being single and not relying on constructs and demands of society? Is it about the benefits of independence or the rush one gets upon that first romantic meeting? I guess every listener will have their own viewpoint but, to me, at that very moment, I sensed a woman who was writing from experience and addressing the sameness of conversation and being left disappointed. The composition has spacey elements and the electronics mix in intergalactic zoom; there is so much working away in the background.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Bierk
Some artists keep the music in the back but For Esmé bring it into the foreground and entwine music, lyrics and vocal together. The more the song goes on, the more light that came in. Our heroine has been clinging onto people for life and love and found something is lacking. Maybe we are looking at love and the routine of small talk and trying to find something deeper. Maybe Martha Meredith has been on dates and it has been a rather shallow and disappointing experience. Perhaps she is looking inside herself and wondering why she chooses certain people and whether love is what she needs in order to become fulfilled and complete. Against the template of women’s rights and conforming with what others expect of women; maybe the heroine has been doing what others have and thinking she needs to blindly fall in love, get married and ‘settle down’. It is annoying to think there are these boundaries and age-old ‘roles’ that women need to take. It might be that Small Talk is a general look at contemporary stresses and how we define ourselves by romantic attachments. She is suspended in something she cannot sustain and there are racing thoughts that are coming to play. You are always gripped by the racing electronics and pulsing beats. The lead tries to untangle lies and eradicate dissonance. There is paranoia at work and a yawning void – people are trying to cure her pain and, through romance and chat, the result is the very same. Small Talk is about cutting out that foreplay, in romance and society, and place fears out there. It seems, the more the song goes on, the clearer the thesis is. Rather than look at romance and the routine of love; it asks people to cut out the meaningless talk and get to the root of big problems. We have problems that are not going aware and we do not seem to be any closer to a cure. Whereas we are focusing on insignificant things are not coming up with any real answers; we need to look at that and wonder what the actual solution is. Small Talk compels questions and thoughts; everyone will look at the song in different ways but it is clear something meaningful and important works away. One listens to Small Talk and is urged to listen again and again. You might need a few spins to understand the various threads and elements working away. It is a busy and full song that will get into the mind, heart and soul and takes you somewhere very special indeed!
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura-Lynn Petrick
I am thrilled to see Righteous Woman out there and hope I have managed to assess it well enough. I have been looking at the work of Martha Meredith and seeing how she has grown as a songwriter. Following the social media feed of For Esmé and I know there are plans afoot regards touring and promotion. The album is out there so many people will want to see it performed and close-up. I hope there are plans for British dates before the end of the year. It is expensive travelling and getting music out to the international crowds. I think there are enough venues over here that would cater the band and see their music given a healthy reception. I am not sure whether that is planned – or it is reserved for the coming years – but there is a lot of Canadian territory to conquer. After, maybe U.S. dates will come through. Keep an eye on the social media feeds to see what is coming and where you can catch For Esmé on the road. I have loved reviewing Small Talk and looking at the Righteous Woman album as a whole. I have learned a lot about myself and the world as a whole and found, in the album, one of the strongest of the year so far. We are living through a time where gender roles and rights are at the forefront of the conversational parapet. The nature of gender politics is more complex than ever and there are people calling for change and improvement. Whether you see sexism as a problem that needs immediate tackling or are of the opinion that self-sufficiency and self-love (from women) is a way of moving forward. It is clear society places impositions and limitations on women – I will look at this later – and we are not progressing as fast as we should! I shall leave things here but my suggestion is to listen to Righteous Woman what is documented. The album looks at feminism and social problems; it has the personal and universal – much richer and more complex than I am making it out to be. It is a fantastic album that keeps revealing something new every time you listen to it. I will follow For Esmé closely and see what comes next. If Righteous Woman is anything to go by, I feel For Esmé is going to be a name many more of us will hear about…
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PHOTO CREDIT: Vanessa Heins