Monday, Jan. 17, 2011

ESG

Dance to the Best of ESG (Fire Records)

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Given instruments by their protective mother as an alternative to the crime and drug abuse of South Bronx in the early ’80s, the teenage Scroggins sisters (Renee, Valerie, Marie and Deborah) had limited means and no musical training to speak of. But what their environment lacked in safety and opportunity was offset by an unlikely creative renaissance. To the rest of the nation, their New York was seen as a potent symbol of hopelessness and impending economic collapse, but behind all of the abandoned buildings was a soon-to-be-legendary scene, fermenting disco, punk, funk and an embryonic form known as hip-hop.

As ESG the sisters synthesized, without a hint of self-consciousness, all of the musical tumult around them into a shimmering concoction of sinewy bass lines, tart vocals and loose-limbed percussion. Although produced, most notably, by the eccentric Martin Hannett (Joy Division), ESG never really needed any polish. Brimming with attitude and endlessly danceable, these tunes require no context; they should speak immediately to anyone with an ass to shake. But given the circumstances of their creation, they go from great to astonishing.