A still-young band with an already impressive track record of generating memorable, gently mind-bending psych rock, Winston-Salem's Estrangers have long appeared on the verge of a career-making breakthrough. That moment has arrived. As a profoundly gratifying distillation of the group's manifold strengths, the group's new LP, Gilded Palms, makes for both an ideal entry point and a treat for longtime fans. Frontman Philip Pledger has both refined his craft and expanded his horizons over the course of ten inimitably weird and catchy compositions.
From the warm rush of the opening track "Hotel Savoy," a winsome drinker's lament whose snaking riff and barrelhouse piano resolves into an uneasy psychedelic coda, the prevailing environment is one of barely sublimated desperation. Tracks like the skittering "The Champ" and the head-caving garage-synth of "Green Stars" play like compellingly druggy caravans down the dark corridors of Pledger's psyche, festooned with everything from relationship anxiety to a well-earned mistrust of the music industry.
Elsewhere, the reverb-drenched "Sidewalk Song" cops both its harmonized guitars and air of cosmic spiritual seeking from All Things Must Pass, deftly taking the drone and danger of vintage psych and manufacturing something novel from it. Like XTC, the Stone Roses, and Olivia Tremor Control before them, Estrangers prove up to the challenge of internalizing their influences while avoiding the temptation to reflexively mimic them.
Ultimately the elegiac final track "White Tiger"—all slow-burning build and ambitious guitar solo—closes matters on a note of appropriate reverence and subversion before ending abruptly on a horror movie shriek. It's a perfect Estrangers moment: They are scary, they are funny, they are new, they are old, and they are here to say. —Timothy Bracy