The summer of 2011 marked the surprising beginnings of Winston-Salem band Estrangers. Formed and led by singer-songwriter Philip Pledger, Estrangers surfaced from the unknown and rapidly rose in popularity from within the Triad music scene.
Hammering out their stellar debut EP Black Ballroom only a few months into this new endeavor, the album garnered them deserved praise and allowed them to share billing with such acts as Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Titus Andronicus. But as the musical direction grew weak with members’ interests dividing and dedications faltered, the band saw several line-up changes, but still managed to tour, release three more albums and remain close in the hearts of dedicated fans.
Sept. 29 marks the release of Estrangers’ newest record Gilded Palms. It will be their first release since the 2013 album Season of 1000 Colors. While still in the dreamy, pop-rock genre that they’ve stuck close to in the past, Gilded Palms is a leap into new territory for the band.
Sticking close to the band’s original musical direction of layered guitars, heavy danceable drums and a fresh, vibrant voice, the record doesn’t take many risks, mostly because it doesn’t have to. Each song is calm and collected, wrought with the sort of professional musicianship that most contemporary artists would envy.
Engineered by Rebecca “Missy Thangs” Mueller at the famous Fidelitorium studios in Kernersville, the record contains a new side of Estrangers, one with darker, dreamy psychedelic overtones, with driving rhythms comparable to the Dandy Warhols keeping them grounded, and a more mature, intentional sound that breaks the band’s sound free from previous records.
The 10 songs clock in just shy of 35 minutes, but somehow time seems a nonissue. From the opening track “Hotel Savoy,” to the pensive closing song “White Tiger,” one gets lost in the poetry of lyrics and synchronicity of perfect balance between words and music.
With Pledger’s vocals and song structure, one is instantly reminded of early ELO and psychedelic-dabbling Kinks, while at the same time fully enveloped in the indie-pop tones similar to that of Real Estate and Tame Impala.
Gilded Palms is a refreshing break in a time of over-engineered and manufactured music. While the band definitely pays homage to its influences, Estrangers sounds original at the same time. The use of keyboards and effects in the album, though present throughout, is done with a consciousness that adds another level to the mountain Estrangers have built, as opposed to falling in line with popular music and using electronics as a means of simply filling in the gaps where songwriting has failed.
The harmonious synergy between all instruments catches the ear first, inspiring a feeling that everything fits neatly in its place and simply belongs together. The twists and turns on the album provoke a feeling of anticipation, yet soothe the ear with a resolution of inevitability; while the track “Sunrise at Big Horn” touches on the psychedelic and shoegaze side of the album, “Croc Rock” brings back the sort of charming, danceable tunes that call to mind David Bowie.
An album should be a cohesive river that, while containing its meanders and rapids, constantly flows as a part of the same force, driving towards the same inevitable end. Gilded Palms does just that. It is a true album, the kind that you don’t mind standing up to flip on the turntable. From beginning to end, it’s clear Estrangers have taken their time in composition and writing, making the most of the four years since Season of 1000 Colors.
The brightness created from the record is still put in check by a stormy edge that looms in the background of all the songs. But this is the sort of balance that can make albums — not just single songs, but entire records — a truly moving experience. Gilded Palms has earned its golden name and raises Estrangers’ catalogue into an upper echelon of great music, proof that whole albums are not a thing of the past, and neither is this esteemed local band.
To listen to “Croc Rock” or pre-order Gilded Palms visit estrangers.bandcamp.com.