Esser - Braveface

Revelling in a mishmash of eclectic influences whilst remaining hooked in pleasurably straight-forward pop.

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Released 5 May 2009 | Transgressive | By Anna Dobbie | Rating: 4
Esser - Braveface

Essex boy Ben Esser's debut album has finally arrived, following a plethora of diverse and highly acclaimed taster-singles, some rave reviews and a lot of cheesy hair-related puns; he does have quite a big quiff, but in this day and age of guyliner and manscara, where well-coiffed gents like Russell Brand and Noel Fielding are regarded as fashion casanovas, is that really shocking enough to justify cringe-y dad jokes like 'Folicular Spectacular'? Well, the album is pretty spectacular, folicular or not, revelling in a mishmash of eclectic influences whilst remaining hooked in pleasurably straight-forward pop.

Esser has progressed from touring Butlins Park resort bars with a cover band, through drumming with much-underrated, quirky indie-pop outfit Ladyfuzz, to recently supporting Kaiser Chiefs and headlining his own solo tour. This wealth of experience at such a young age (he's only 23) is reflected in his diverse, beautifully constructed pop songs glistening with multi-tracked harmonies, surprisingly melancholy lyrics and passionate percussion; from one track to the next, he test drives new musical genres, masters them, then schizophrenically switches to something completely different, but - despite the contradicting styles - each song complements its neighbours.

Album opener 'Leaving Town' is drum-rollingly bold, despite paranoid lyrics over lalala harmonies, while title track 'Braveface' harks back to fellow Essex boys Blur's early work, with a pure, unadulterated pop hook over a skittering groove. Outstanding single 'Headlock' expresses his frustration at a relationship through playground fighting over dance bleeps, while 'Bones' explores Esser's darker side through maudlin mockney layered vocals. 'Satisfied' is a glitchy, vinyl-effect, ska-tango over plinking pianos, and 'Work It Out''s synthy intro reminds us of Crystal Castles' producer Lexxx's contribution. In 'I Love You' he bemoans cheesy romance in songs, saying that "love is no excuse for bad art", and 'Real Life' demonstrates that he is able to also carry off ethereal soundscapes with aplomb.

'Braveface' is a highly infectious melting pot of ideas and influences and an outstanding debut that deserves to be recognised as one of the best albums of 2009.