Brooklyn-based art pop project Erica Eso released 129 Dreamless GMG last week off of Burlington, Vermont’s NNA Tapes label, and are set to tour in Boston at the Lilypad on March 30. The group’s seven-track LP compiled by band founder, Weston Minissali, and bandmates Rhonda Lowry (drums), Nathaniel Morgan (bass), Ellen O’Meara (synth/back-up vocals), and Angelica Bess (back-up vocals) takes pop to the next modernist level (post-post-modern?).
Fresh and telling of the current entertainment industry (and the status quo in general), Erica Eso’s work is both enjoyable with its catchy, poppy auto-tuned sentiments and inventive with its push against what the industry calls for. The irony of creating a type of music that the music itself speaks against could come across as too much, and has certainly been done before. But Erica Eso is gentle in their pop abstraction. They manage to politely nudge themselves into that sweet spot between commercial and pretentious.
The GMG the LP’s title—which I discovered upon a quick Google search—refers to Grenade Machine Guns. Knowing that, assuming that’s the acronym Erica Eso was going for, the LP’s first track “Gun-Metal Grey” seems appropriate. The song, returning to classic dance pop elements of the ‘70s and ‘80s, explodes with high-pitched vocals and a warm sax solo. Bright synth interjections give it a modern, sleek edge. But beneath the candy-coated ecstasy is an insistent, mechanical beat. That and the cold, “grey” lyrics ground the song, keeping it from drifting off too far into dreamland. “That’s no way to live. / Just gun-metal grey” refrains as a reminder of a less pleasant reality shrouded in gloom and looming tragedy.
Following the gun motif is “Love-Gun,” the single that Erica Eso pre-released with an accompanying music video. The single engages with synth experimentation even more than “Gun-Metal Grey,” but still juxtaposes dreamy pop vibes with the melancholic. Robotic vocal interludes and dissonant violins interrupt the upbeat melody to almost create two distinct narrative threads. But even the sung lyrics are not particularly happy-go-lucky, cozy, pop sugar. One of the track’s more memorable lines from Minissali “Daddy’s on morphine again” with the echoed response of “No more bother, get more water now” conveys the speaker’s disturbing awareness and ambivalence of their father’s drug addiction at a young age.
The album’s instrumental tracks “Mirror Stage I” and “Mirror Stage II” descend deeper into abstraction. The back-to-back tracks reminded me of David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet. Both the songs and film are strange and tense, but actually not all that strange. Terror stems from how closely nightmares resemble reality, more so than how they differ. “Mirror Stage I” and “Mirror Stage II” imitate the tangible—synths mimicking machine gun shots, organ pipes, mirrors. The songs’ unsettling tones result from how warped and distorted yet recognizable the synth sounds are. Like how Lynch reflects natural chaos in Blue Velvet with ants zooming beneath the grass, munching away at the ground the film’s troubled characters stand on.
Erica Eso’s latest album offers enough pop phrases and familiar images to obscure them, not in a distanced, heady way, but in a fresh, compelling way. 129 Dreamless GMG, in an enticing pop haze, slips into themes of violence and destruction: its causers and how real, or “dreamless,” it is.