SJ Esau, born and bred in Bristol, England, is living the proverbial dream this spring, creating what he calls "experimental pop" for the Bay Area-based weirdo record label and collective Anticon. The label just released Esau's first full-length album Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse in the United States and internationally, and he's currently touring Europe. Following in the footsteps of recent releases by Why?, 13&God, and Subtle, Cat Feed Collapse continues Anticon's push away from the offbeat hip-hop you can find on its ten-year compilation toward acts that abandon the structures of hip-hop entirely.
Anticon manager Baillie Parker says releasing an album like Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse isn't really a stretch. "People these days listen to everything, not just one genre, and this album was ambiguous in terms of genre anyway," he says. "It has some of the same sensibilities of other records we've released. We've wanted to diversify the type of music we put out for a while now."
Still, Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse is almost not weird enough to be an Anticon album. Esau structures his songs like traditional pop records, but often engages in extensive Pro Tools-assisted experimentation. In keeping with Anticon's DIY ethos, he played most of the instruments himself (except the "hard" stuff, like the clarinet, violin, and the faster and more complicated drumming) and handled all the production, including the looping, engineering, and extra effects.
"I hope people don't think it's too weird or too normal, and like it on its own terms; not many of my favorite bands are the most popular acts in the world," says SJ, who lists artists like De La Soul, Sparklehorse, and Captain Beefheart as influences.
Sonic experiments like "Geography" may not make the average emo radio playlist, but songs like "Wears the Control," "The Wrong Order," "I Got a Bad," and "Lazy Eye" are all perfectly good examples of melancholy pop. "Halfway Up the Pathway" is an upbeat acoustic folk tune until an effects-laden final fifteen seconds.
Despite Cat Feed's accessibility, Esau self-released it to little fanfare in 2005. A gig with Why? in Bristol in 2006 and demo to Anticon netted him a two-album deal. "It's strange coming out on an American label, but I really wanted Anticon to put it out," he says. "They're one of the best ones out there doing it."
Now he just needs to find a way to hit America. "I really want to tour the US. I want to meet the guys from Anticon face to face," Esau says. "But going there would be quite a big deal. It's expensive, and security is a big issue. Some of the instruments and electronic equipment I'd be traveling with would look a bit dodgy to the people at the airports. Other bands have told me horror stories."
In lieu of an Esau tour, Anticon's '07 schedule includes San Francisco band Thee More Shallows' new album, as well as a "remix" album by rapper and producer Alias at the end of this month. Sole's instrumental electronica album under his Man's Best Friend moniker appears in May, and a new Odd Nosdam record follows this summer. Top-tier Anticonians Jel and Dose One are at work on a new Themselves album, which probably won't be released until next year.
In the meantime, SJ is already busy with his follow-up album. "I'm not sure what shape it's taking," he says. "I'm probably going to use fewer 'classical' instruments on this one. But I'm working on all types of odd arrangements. It's going to be all over the place, but it's shaping up to be really interesting."
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