Photo by Matt Groce
ESTRANGERS make the kind of classic pop that hides in plain sight, the kind that lingers in the blown-out speakers of vintage thrift store amplifiers and makes you wonder why you stopped listening. Towering melodies, cavernous guitar reverb, lush analog synths and crashing bass & drums are bound together in their bright-eyed Rock and Roll stylings.
A labor of love nurtured by singer/guitarist Philip Pledger after a bit of a rough patch, Estrangers emerged from the ashtrays and smokestacks of the old industrial city of Winston-Salem in the summer of 2011, cutting through the haze of an oft- apathetic town with a surprising, honest vibrance and potent energy. Within the first six months of their existence they had recorded and released Black Ballroom, an 8-song debut EP rich with promise, and shared stages with heralded groups like Unknown Mortal Orchestra & Titus Andronicus.
Yet in the months that followed, the group found themselves drifting. With the departure of two original members and a lack of clear musical direction, the future of Estrangers grew uncertain. At times, the band's newer material showed an infatuation with raucous and raw Californian garage rock, while at others they found themselves swimming in cascading keyboard sounds and airy guitar riffs.
The synthesis of those elements bore Sunmelt EP, a summery lo-fi experiment in playful songwriting, uninhibited by the expectations and pressures of a pristine studio recording environment. Its warm vibe carried resemblance to a forgotten cassette, left on the dashboard of a car to be warped by the sun, caramelized in psychedelic color and warble. While rough around the edges, the EP held two enduring gifts in its title track and "Scatterheart," songs that would be re-recorded for the band's first true full-length. As they finished out the remainder of 2012's regional show schedule, Pledger's collection of new demos quietly grew, and the foundations for Estrangers' new album were laid.
It would be hard to imagine Season of 1000 Colors coming to fruition any other way. For four wintery days in January 2013, the band hid away in the modest Sunnyside neighborhood of southside Winston-Salem and committed their album to 24- track analog tape, with local-via-Detroit legend Ryan Pritts (Burglar F*cker, Paik) manning the console.
At first listen Season of 1000 Colors is the logical successor of Sunmelt: an album bursting at the seams with brilliant psych- pop hues, delivered with focus and captured with shimmering highs and throbbing lows. "Cape Fear" accosts the listener early with bombastic and romantic exuberance, part cinematic dreamscape and part Italian beach excursion. The coastal imagery the song paints isn't wasted on the record as a whole; the album ebbs and flows like a wash of sea-salted melodrama. Sun-bleached joyride "Dayzd" bleeds through "Moonraker"s villainous groove into the pounding, surf-inflected "Monarchs," before finding a soft landing on the haunting specter of "Hold Me Close (L'Inverno)." Late-album party-starter "Love's Pure Light" finds Estrangers conjuring darker elements, before "Mrs. Bee"s pensive introduction and antiphonal conclusion help wrap-up the album like Ram-era McCartney.
Ultimately, Season of 1000 Colors is the byproduct of tireless and uncompromising pop songwriting. It's an album in the truest sense, bearing a dazzling array of individual gems but delivering rewarding emotional poignancy upon listening as a whole. With a string of exciting shows slated for the summer, including a coveted slot at Raleigh's Hopscotch Music Festival in September, Estrangers stand poised to take their place as one of the imminent indie pop groups the east coast has to offer.