Some music is difficult to explain with the written word; it is an experiential thing that lives and breathes its origins. Such is the case with Cyclope Espion’s new album Friday Night Epitaph. From the very opening “Intro,” which takes audiences on a ride into the singer-songwriter’s life, this record is indie gold. Crossing from France to the United States, it is a cultural journey of an artist who creates in the language of love.
A satisfying eleven-song album, this record tells a story. The sound is born of the Lower East Side, a magic place musically. The essence of greatness is in it, as the place gave birth to scenes long dead before the songs here were conceived. Originally from France, Cyclope Espion (guitars / vocals / harmonica) was sleeping on couches, eating at food kitchens, and performing in New York City during the creation of this album. “It is also in New York that I learned how to play,” says Espion.
That connection to reality is heard in the vocal delivery of the upbeat “Faux Départ,” sung in his native French and alive with imagery of the Champs-Élysées. This transitions to the title track, which is a painful, hollow, hopeless trudge shown through rich lyricism. The title track heads into the meat of the story, from dark alleys and back door clubs in New York City where the gritty harsh reality often meets hope and reinvigorated dreams.
Nearly halfway through the record, “Wishful Thinking” is an homage to that lost relationship, a vocal delivery that brings to mind Bob Dylan with its plaintive heartbreak. Slightly off in pitch, it fits with the feelings of angst that combine with loneliness in a mind-numbing brilliance. The metaphor-rich “Snapdragon” moves with an uptempo vibe and hopeful feeling. A troubadour fingerpicking acoustic bit of beauty, “Mad Love & the Self” is definitely born out of a incredible skill of multicultural songwriting. This song has Lennon-style ambiguous lyricism that paints a vivid picture without directly saying a word. Stellar.
Produced by Nate Kohrs (guitar) and mastered by Tony Mantz (Nick Cave), the expertise in the engineering is apparent. The DIY release has a solid foundation: Espion caught the ear of Kohrs while performing around the city with the likes of Skinny Bones (wrote songs with The Ramones), The Bowery Boys, and David Reel (who himself was produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono). Photography within the album and cover art from Takako Ida adds to the imagery here, telling the story along with the music, page by page.
“Satellite” is possibly the best song of the record, bringing everything together in two minutes and forty eight seconds of greatness. Masterfully mixed, a lush instrumentation does not overwhelm the indie rock vocal delivery from Espion. This songwriter creates a multidimensional listening experience via his vivid lyrics, hollow vocals and echoes as punctuation.
Heading out of the record, “Indélébile” returns to the French language that so beautifully mixes with the instrumentation. Followed by “Outro,” the subway moves back into the language that Cyclope Espion has created by finding his voice as a songwriter. Closing this story with “Le Boa,” the story comes full circle. Elegant and simple, it is a goodbye from a talent who has transformed the grit of New York City back to a place of beauté complexe, a place that immerses the listeners.–Lisa Whealy