Tom Esch – Afterimage – EP Review
Right on – I dig this guy.
I first learned about the music of Tom Esch last year in reviewing a song called “I Just Can’t Believe It’s True” from his previous release, the Modern Devices EP, and he’s retained me as a fan ever since. Back with the follow-up to his debut, he’s returned in fine form with a new set of five cuts on Afterimage.
Clearly a man that thinks about the moves he’s making, the stop/start riffs and pattern of “Moonlight” takes us into the opening of his second EP, flexing a stylistically groovin’ combo of Alt-Rock that pulses with badass tones rippin’ from the amplifiers. While I think structurally there’s an argument to be made that the complexity of a cut like “Moonlight” could potentially make the beginning stages of Afterimage a bit tougher for the average set of ears to get their mind around, I also can’t imagine a whole lot of people out there wouldn’t be impressed by the flashy guitar solo or effort put into a song such as this. I went back & forth on this one a bit in comparison to the rest of the record…not so much how I hear it personally, but how other people out there would hear it; “Moonlight” is ultimately quite a hybrid and bound to generate all kinds of different reactions & responses, whereby a lot of the rest of this record stands a chance to be more easily & readily accepted. I dig the more artistic design of what this first track has to offer, and literally everything sounds great production-wise…hard to say though what the ultimate verdict will be, especially considering one of the most ear-catching cuts is right around the corner with the wicked guitars of “Beautiful Mess” and its powerfully gripping hooks to follow. There’s a couple moments of distinct vintage Queens Of The Stone Age-esque or Desert Sessions Kyuss-like sound that you’ll find throughout the Afterimage EP…I think Tom’s a much better singer than either of those bands had in their permanent lineups…which likely all gives him a bit of an advantage when it comes to “Moonlight.”
Now…don’t get me wrong…I enjoyed “Moonlight,” but I am just like a great many of you out there…and what I mean by that is, sometimes a more straight-ahead structure and set of hooks can tend to hit the mark a bit easier for me – and that’s the case when it comes to “Beautiful Mess.” This is one of those cuts that I’m gonna be addicted to for a very, very long time – the hook that Tom has created for the chorus of this second track is undeniably HUGE. Credit to the man…I’ve always thought he was a good singer & great guitar player, but when it comes to this track, you could argue that statement in reverse; it’s the vocal hooks that grab you the most on “Beautiful Mess” without question. He’s done an exceptional job on the execution here and created a massively engaging tune that feels like it could somehow have fit somewhere in between The Color And The Shape and There Is Nothing Left To Lose by the Foo Fighters, whom I’ve compared him to in the past as well. Tom’s based in Seattle folks, he comes by this honestly as it gets. Not a doubt in my mind though – he’s nailing this track perfectly – I’d go as far as to say this is right up there with the best of the best in anything-Rock related this year for myself personally. Rad breakdown & bring-back…in fact, the drums provided by Alex Coleman not only add powerful punch into this song, but the entire record at-large; the assembly of players on this EP with Drew Fletcher’s reliably strong bass-lines and Tom’s ever-expressive vocals/guitars make for one seriously engaging & unified sound. Absolutely brilliant guitar tones on “Beautiful Mess” – but by that same token, there’s not a single thing or moment in this song that doesn’t stand out for all the right reasons at some point – 100% killer cut and one where the hooks will stick with ya long afterwards.
The comparisons to the Foos are probably equally valid when it comes to “Power Of 3” – and yup, you got it, it’s another early highlight on the Afterimage EP. Dude even shouts out KEXP 90.3 and credits the station for saving him – and anyone that’s spent time on that channel certainly knows its true value to the music-scene over the years. I’m east coast now here in Canada, but I used to be on the west side in Vancouver…Seattle was my proud home away from home and the dial immediately switched to 90.3 whenever I went south of the border. Is “Power Of 3” a better song than “Beautiful Mess” was? Even after saying “Beautiful Mess” is one of the top Rock-anything songs of this year, I’d still be inclined to agree that an argument could be made that this third cut on the record could reach an even bigger audience…maybe not ‘better’ perhaps, but probably a bit more accessible when it comes to considering mass consumption. They’re both seriously incredible tunes – that much we can agree on I’m sure. Listening to the way that “Power Of 3” opens up so smoothly & smartly with its impressive drums, the amazing melody that Tom latches onto for the words of this song, or moments where like, those guitar tones of his begin to shine & grind all over again, or he changes the pattern just enough for the final verse to have it stand out a lil’ more and keep us relentlessly entertained right til the very freakin’ end – I mean, c’mon now people, he’s found a way to pretty much put everything into this song that your ears could want. Love the low-key beginning of “Power Of 3” and how it brings you in to listen…almost like…something like “Given To Fly” by Pearl Jam in that sense of comfort & ease. Then you hit that beautifully designed tone & sweet rumble of distortion that Esch is so great at, with his Grohl-esque vocals, and you’re snapped right back to those Foo Fighter comparisons. That’s one hell of a combo for a guy from the Grunge era to listen to, that I can tell ya with confidence. This whole song is a payload of payoffs – each moment of this structure builds this track strongly and fills it with resounding entertainment you can’t miss out on. In some ways it’s one of the more chilled-out cuts on Afterimage, but believe me when I say it’s no less intense…the man constructs a killer tune, no doubt about it.
MAN! Would you listen to the harmonics Tom plays on “So Excited” please & thank-you? It’s moments that come out shining that brightly that get ME “So Excited” – that much I can tell ya for a certainty. I might think that this particular tune is a bit less accessible in comparison to the incredible hooks found on the previous two songs – but WHAT A CHORUS on this cut! It’s so remarkably subdued in its first incarnations, which sound like pure magic with the gentle harmonics ringing out so clearly in the space surrounding them…and dude saves the real fireworks to light this mother right up for the chorus finale. I gotta hand it to Tom though…he sure writes & creates songs that sound enormously fun & rewarding to play as a musician…and from the sounds of things, he’s given the other players involved the freedom to contribute their talents to the end results. Unless he also wrote the wildly behemoth drums from Coleman as well, in which case Esch needs even more credit – but what it sounds like to me, is the sound of an artist that’s really found the right players to fit into his vision. I mean, maybe the man is forever to be defined solo, maybe he’s not – but I’d sure be trying to lock this band into place for a long time to come – Alex, Drew, Tom…they audibly sound like they’re meant to be playing songs like these together. In some ways, I could understand if “So Excited” paled a little in comparison to the previous two cuts…it’s perhaps a little less reliant on hooks and more on nostalgia with its Pinkerton-inspired vibrantly colorful tones ringing out so savagely – but for many of us out there listening, that’s gonna give Tom extra street cred here. Plus, like…good LORD listen to the man attack the finale of “So Excited” from the microphone will ya? Dude just lights this mother up like he has yet to on the record so far, audibly proving that his love for Dave Grohl certainly reaches back further than the Foo Fighters and into the Nirvana days – Tom’s vehemently approaching Cobain territory with the way he sings the last moments of “So Excited.” And you know what? It sounds AWESOME. He hints at something like this earlier on in the record on “Moonlight,” but it’s “So Excited” where he really makes the most of his screaming potential. Makes you appreciate that Esch has a massive set of tools within his vocal-arsenal that he can bring out to rock the shit out of you at any moment he chooses to. Bonus points as well to Tim Mitchell, who appears on this record both in front of & behind the studio boards, lending a hand on the guitars & harmonies, and also taking care of the mixing & mastering of Afterimage. I don’t know exactly who is responsible for what note or chord between himself and what Tom is up to, but that’s fine…bottom line is, Tim’s another part of a recipe on this second EP from Esch that is leading to seriously stellar results.
The bookends of this record were the most perplexing part when it came to examining the strengths of this EP. Where there are so many albums out there that the middle sags in, that’s certainly where this one is the strongest. I still enjoyed the final track “It’s About Time” and the opening of “Moonlight,” but for myself personally, it’s almost without question that the middle three damn near stole the show here. So don’t blame me or my ears – they work just fine; blame Tom for writing & creating such rad songs to listen to! We’ve all got our favorites, and the middle of the Afterimage EP was definitely where it was at for me. I like that a ton of what you’ll hear on “It’s About Time” sounds like an audible triumph…as if Esch and his crew of talent surrounding him appreciated the gravity of just how killer this set of songs has been and took this final cut for a victory lap. Almost ending the record on a twisted Alt-Folk tune of sorts, Tom nearly runs into a Cracker-like vibe here with the dusty Americana/Country-Rock twinge & harmonies added to the mix of this cut. Again, certainly more than fine with these ears of mine – I was a huge fan of David Lowery’s bizarre musical oddity…still am in fact. “It’s About Time” is far from any kind of laziness, but it is arguably much more ‘normal’ or straight-ahead than probably every other cut on the Afterimage EP. Best way I can put it, is that this record plays much like you’d hope a concert experience itself would; “Moonlight” gives you that first impression of what the night’s gonna be like, “Beautiful Mess” and “Power Of 3” were the songs you bought your tickets for, “So Excited” makes for that incredible finale you were hoping to see & hear, and “It’s About Time” is the comeback encore. Tom’s not fully spent on this last track, but you also get the sense that he played his nuts off on “So Excited” to bring the house down, perhaps just in case there wasn’t gonna be an encore – you ever see one of those shows? And then the band comes back on stage to play one last track, even though they’re nearing exhaustion…something comforting, fairly relaxed, and not too challenging energy-wise. “It’s About Time” keeps the cool of Esch locked-in and the songwriting standards still up on high, but undoubtedly eases you out of the record in such a way that, when the house lights come back on, you won’t be blinded by them…you get that sense of finality here with this last song on the Afterimage EP – you know that the experience is over, and you’re ready to go when it finishes…or ready to repeat it all over again.
Dude should be proud of this record – it really plays tightly, expressively, and like a fully complete & contained experience that would work just as well live as it does here in the studio recordings. Can’t say enough about this lineup of players – I’m massively impressed by the writing & performances from the beginning to the end of Afterimage.
Find out more about Tom Esch at his official homepage at: https://www.tomeschmusic.com
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