Little Plastic Tapes - 2003 - 60 minutes
'Post-rock' is one of those nebulous terms often bandied about to describe instrumental, noisy guitar bands (see Redneck Manifesto). Dublin-based Estel are often tarred with just such a musical brush. Keen to sidestep this generality, the follow-up to their acclaimed debut 'Angelpie I Think I Ate Your Face', shows Estel to be supreme genre criss-crossers - and it's not all instrumental.
Building on their post-punk noise retrospectives, they layer a huge range of instruments and styles to create a sound not much heard (or done so well) in Irish music today. 'Drive Me To Hell' kicks off with Andrew Bushe's pounding drum intro before the grinding guitars roll in. It's frantic stuff but then the pace switches completely with 'Angels Pass Over At Twenty Past'. With more than a nod to the keyboard quirkiness of the B52s, this is rockabilly chic meets sci-fi kitsch.
'The Girl Who Was Normal…' is a fractious epic of twisted pockets of loud and quiet. One notable development from 'Angelpie…' is that the band have learned to temper their sound - if the guitars and drums sound like they're taking over, Sarah Sheil's sublime keyboards interject with style.
When an instrumental outfit enlists the help of guest vocalists, the results can pique curiosity, not just for the sound but the choice of singer. In this case, the two vocal tracks are very different contributions. The sombre, pensive tones of Adrian Crowley on 'Electric Eels' is an unexpected collaboration but it works well. In contrast, Hugh Holmes of The Waltons fronts the full-on aural assault of 'My Raymond Is Contagious', a track that grates from the opening screech.
The band themselves are not afraid to cite Krautrock as an influence and this is most obvious on the experimental antics of 'King Of Casual Vomit' and the retro keyboards of 'Nuisance Midget'. Close your eyes and listen to 'Only Some Are Shepherds', and you could be listening to early Joy Division.
The excellently titled 'I Have Drown Eyes' is probably the best song on the album. Beautifully orchestrated, each instrument stands out and builds to form a perfect whole. There aren't many bands toeing the instrumental line in Irish music. Too often it's easier to draft in an average singer, fearing the music alone won't stand up by itself. Not so with this band. This is an inventive assortment of tracks that wears its diverse influences proudly. Frequent faces on the live scene, Estel already have a dedicated following. If this album doesn't win them an even bigger fanbase, there should be free cyanide for the non-believers…
Tracklisting: Drive Me To Hell - Angels Pass Over At Twenty Past - Bang Bang, No More Martini - The Girl Who Was Normal...Except When The Moon Was Out - Electric Eels - King Of Casual Vomit - Nuisance Midget - Only Some Are Shepherds - My Raymond Is Contagious (Vocal) - I Have Drown Eyes - Free Cyanide For The Rock Star Elite