Throughout the seven year wait for follow up to Esthero’s sophomore release Wikked Lil’ Grrrls, the eclectic artist openly shared her creative moments and life experiences through social media outlets. A blog over at Estheroinprogress.com chronicled YouTube videos of her dog Oboe and heartfelt messages to her family, Myspace found the songwriter selling individual tracks for the price of a Starbucks beverage as a way to give back to fans while she was on unsigned downtime, and her Formspring/Twitter enabled the closest interaction since the Swallow Me mailing list. Amongst the communication, news of an upcoming album was mentioned but wasn’t fully brought to anticipation until live stream sessions with herself and recording engineer Franny Graham were broadcasted via Ustream. A few months later, an announcement was made that a new website was launching, and a lead single (iTunes) was kicking off the release of a highly anticipated record titled Everything Is Expensive.
In regards to the campaign and promotion of this record, it’s been very hands on for the artist. To receive enough funds to put the record out, a Pledgemusic.com page was put together in several packages (ranging from a digital download of the album, to a signed physical copy, all the way down to silly finger paintings or playing UNO with her in a Los Angeles coffee shop) and pledgers were able to listen to tracks from the record before it was released/see the album’s progress as the final stages were placed together. In true life imitating art fashion and vice versa, the financial struggles and triumph were presented uncensored and contributed an impeccable and realistic backdrop for the album to reveal itself on.
The melancholic state surrounding Everything Is Expensive makes itself apparent with the opening “Crash (Prelude)” that combines a gorgeous organ crunch, subtly panned through the left and right channels making for a fantastically widened stereo image when it’s combined with the doubled vocals. Later, the same song makes an extended appearance under the same title with featured guest Jonah Johnson. Where the euphoric version of the prelude left chord progressions beautifully flowing through string instrumentation, the latter sinks itself into a more standard guitar and piano dominion, providing necessary emotion through conservative song building which intriguingly weaves its way through contemporary genres. It also glides through reminiscent country glimmers and a soulful build toward the middle of the track that urges to “come out in the sun when you’re scared and facing down”. 1970′s influences are abundant, but offered in an upgraded and intense passion. Though different in arrangement, both versions hold a zealous state of purity that’s mentored by it’s pristine song writing approach.
In many ways, “Crash” sets the mood of the record and it’s downhearted hope continues through stripped compositions like “Black Mermaid” and “Over” which both hold a strong focus on doubled guitar melody and layers. They rely on benchmark recording techniques – that is slight reverberation, simple delay and frequencies meant to slightly give a piece of a song a niche to fit without fighting amongst other pieces of music.
Delicacy is key throughout Everything is Expensive’s entire run and is greatly shown through the mixing and mastering process. In fact, the lossy 320kbps MP3 download through Pledgemusic.com shows the record sitting at a healthy 7dB of average dynamic range, with some songs dipping into 9dB and 8dB of average range (please keep in mind that this is not a lossless reading as we’re still waiting on physical copies to arrive).
The mixing is quiet, the arrangements are wholeheartedly relied on the technical and creative skill of the musicians themselves and the written song anatomy. All aspects seamlessly gel together to aid one another, instead of heavy compression and other song mixing techniques. The songs all come together without an engineering flaw and is a breath of fresh, headroom and dynamic range space and air.
The manifest for this album makes no secret of diverting away from the Trip-Hop atmosphere that built Breath From Another into a late 90′s Electronic success and strays more toward the organic tracks from Wikked Lil’ Grrrls. One could argue the sound has drifted completely, but if you listen to the three records in succession there’s an undisputed growth and maturity that’s blossomed and harvested itself into Esthero’s musical career as a whole. “How Do I Get You Alone” is a highly layered and obscurely produced track written by Esthero and Ricky Tillo that interestingly brings together plenty influences that have been demonstrated through her catalog. Autotuned and natural vocal layers throw back to her songwriting on Kanye West’s 808 & Heartbreaks record, while maintaining an Electronic vibe that whispers in augmentation of her debut album. The Electronic vibes of the track also fully blend with the organic bass and muted piano to combine the Junglebook vibe which was mastered during the sophomore endeavor. It’s a summary of sorts and it’s call and answer toward the end of the track during the “you could really see her light up” lines build the song to it’s climax before coming down quickly and seems almost incomplete until the final chords and notes are pressed, and then faded out.
“Never Gonna Let You Go” is an earlier track and lead single off the project that erupts in uncontaminated pop fashion and recalls the title track to Wikked Lil’ Grrrls in it’s bratty, relentless, honest fashion to its success in combining unadulterated swagger and power into relationship conflicts and ones self. While synths and a predominant kick and clap make themselves known the most, it’s still surprisingly a bare arrangement that has a simplistic rhythmic section, allowing it’s melodic structure to freely distribute itself in jazzy fashion through the track while Esthero confronts a man on an uncertain direction of love via brute lyrics like “So who’s that lady I just saw you with? You said it was your sister, but you’re full of shit.”
Intimate confrontation takes hold through “You Don’t Get A Song” (in which she tells someone to go fuck themselves quite forcefully). “Go” settles down and in introversion tendency she challenges an ending piece in life where she admits someone’s need to let go of her so they can find what they need, “you won’t find it in me” she states to the chorus’ end and continues through a second verse directed at inward introspection.
“Walking On Eggshells” presents one of the more abstract song progression and teeters between commanding snare rolls amongst organ whole notes and laid back guitar strums before exploding with electric guitar stabs, excessive supporting rhythmic sections and distinguished chord progressions that fuel an emotional outlet that states “can’t stand the state I’m in. Can’t stand the pain you give, it’s like I’m walking on eggshells.” An all-out rock-out session throws itself through the track a few times through the “So I walk, yeah, I walk, yeah I walk alone” segments. In complete opposition, “Supernatural” makes a sterile and accessible development that recalls sonics that would be concrete for a Max Martin pop/rock production (think newer P!NK or Kelly Clarkson single releases).
The most stunning and beautiful track on Everything is Expensive is the vulnerable, ingenious title track that works its way through flanged guitar lines and doubled, harmonized layered vocal techniques that asks “how much would you pay for a friend?” while upgrading concepts covered in “We R In Need of a Musical Revolution” with broader lyrics “And if i dole out my good name, would you give me the correct change? Sell your soul, sing a song. Sell your soul, play along. Never change.” Through a brief guitar solo and harmonized vocal counterparts and another verse, a straight-forward, subdued rhythmic section interestingly drives “Everything Is Expensive.” As piano and guitar continue thriving, they’re always at the forefront of the mix, the drums give the song a slight lift in force which works great for the climax of the track.
It’s almost scary to think this album couldn’t have happened. Many tweets and pleas during the release of “Never Gonna Let You Go” were distributed through the account in hopes that fans would support the record so she wouldn’t have to look toward other career paths. Sure, she’s worked with The Black Eyed Peas, Brandy, Timbaland, Cee-Lo Green, Andre 3000, and countless other heavy hitting artists but it does take a lot of financial crisis to remain true to your creative value. Throughout the entirety of her career, we’ve seen authenticity strive and it’s a wonderful feeling to know that Everything Is Expensive is no exception to the tremendous integrity she’s built for herself since her debut Breath From Another 15 years ago.
Although, it’s a quiet album, it effective. It’s intimate. We had quite a long discussion with Esthero in an interview that will be posted as soon as possible and we mentioned that Everything Is Expensive felt like an intrusion of privacy, almost like reading a diary. She sounded worried when she asked if it was too private and our response was a swift no. “Gracefully” and “Francis” are the only tracks not covered in our review of the record and they’re two of the most direct and personal songwriting sections on the record. Francis should be proud, Esthero should be proud, the entire team who worked and made this record possible should be patting themselves on the back, and the fans should place this one in a warm place next to their heart.