And by people I mean myself.
SJ Esau’s third album proper could be a difficult album for some, largely because of how different it can be from the output of his anticon labelmates. SJ – a British anticon signing – “[sticks] out like a freshly hammered thumb” as he notes on ‘Human Annoyed.’ It’s not a bad thing, because at least the throbbing thumb is fresh, and this freshness is often what elevates Small Vessel above being…well, annoying.
Classifying the album perhaps presents the listener with the most difficult task. Standing somewhere between the more indie rock leanings of labelmates Why? and the cutesy toytronica or folkpop of Psapp and Tunng, Small Vessel doesn’t make any moves to pigeonhole itself. At first daunting, this quality is eventually rewarding when the pieces begin to fall into place. Album standout ‘Depth Perception Lack’ plays like something at once familiar and yet exciting and unpredictable. Frequently switching pace and tone, SJ manages to make something that intrigues but that also has an instant singalong factor (the refrain of “you know something I don’t know” is catchy in the best and worst ways possible).
There’s certainly a roguish avant-pop charm here, though it may be buried away too deeply on first listen. ‘I Threw A Wobbly’ (note for non-Brits: a wobbly is what happens when a two year-old doesn’t get their way, screams bloody murder and starts throwing toys at your breakables) presents a wonderfully thrashy shoutalong chorus that can be a joy but in the wrong mood might just irritate. Meanwhile, slower tracks like ‘Under Certain Things’ give way to lush instrumentation reminiscent of talkdemonic but not nearly as brief. Placed directly after ‘Wobbly’, it’s a great song that nevertheless may have you pacing about and waiting for it to just get on with it, and this stop-and-start pacing is all over the album. It would be unfair to say that it frequently stalls, but the tracklist can sometimes do a disservice to the songs.
That the highlights might pass you by at first is symptomatic of the kind of music Small Vessel is. Skimmed over, it might not present much of note. Repeat listens, however, peel away the layers to reveal a grower of an off-kilter pop album that’s worth delving into for the few pop gems alone. He won’t top any end-of-year lists just yet, but SJ Esau shows promise here that suggests that the lesser known weird kid of anticon (“weird” is relative here) might soon be making a viable attempt to usurp the spotlight from his labelmates across the pond.
You can visit SJ Esau’s space here, and you can buy Small Vessel here. You’ll also want to watch the video for ‘Under Certain Things’, which is set in the kind of pub Alison Goldfrapp will probably open to keep her occupied when she retires.