As you probably know, i went gaga over the first Isobella album,
Akasha, a brilliant
album of subtle male-female vocal interplay buried under an
ocean of guitars, keyboards, and drums. As i discovered upon
seeing Isobella back in November
of 2000, the drummer/male vocalist has since left the band.
So, in a way, this album is the debut release from the new 3-piece
Since i am, to use Malimus's terminology, "Isobella's
FanBoy", bear with me while i examine the album in excruciating
detail. It's only 10 songs, so we should be through before Thursday.
Ready? Let's go....
Olive starts the album off with a wall of guitars that
would have sounded right at home on Akasha. Eventually,
it slows down a bit, and Laura Poinsette's clear voice floats
in; she is the only vocalist left, so let's call her the lead
vocalist. Olive is an energetic but lovely little song.
Kidnap Someone And Make Them Happy kicks off with a
fuzzy drum loop accompanying Poinsette's singing and keyboards.
This goes on for almost 30 seconds (!) before the guitars chime
in. This is a good catchy tune with lovely guitar interplay
and is one of my favorites on the album. What i like about it
is that it shows a creative use of the drum machine. Rather
than simply using the devise to replicate the AWOL "Heath",
this sounds almost "hip-hop" in its beats. Move forward, young
Diana's Secret Star starts slowly with wailing guitars
over Poinsette's emotive singing. This vocal style she has now
-- it only shows through on a few tunes, and, well, i have issues
with it. In fact, i call it her "Sinead voice". You know, a
certain natural tremolo in a high-pitched female voice combined
with a flatness to the vowels.... Reminds me of Sinead O'Connor.
Sinead's voice always annoyed me, but Laura Poinsette manages
to pull it off with only a few moments that stick out to me.
This song is one of those moments.
I think the reason that she can pull it off might be the backing
music. Let's face it, Sinead's albums were all about voice and
everything else was a mere accompaniment. Isobella, on the other
hand, are definately a guitar band. The twin guitar attack of
Shane McLaughlin and Brad Richardson is the foundation of the
rich Isobella sound. Poinseete's voice seems to carry a significant
amount of weight, but not all of it: it is as significant to
the Isobella sound as that wall of guitars, not moreso.
Anyway, the vocals on Diana's Secret Star stick out
a bit to me. On the whole though, this is a pretty good song.
It works well within the general flow of the album, and the
feedback-laden bridge works really nicely with the strong keyboard
Illuminous Insect could also have come off of Akasha.
It features a good wall of guitars and some really forceful
drum programming. In fact, a real drummer would have been great
here. It also sounds like there is a cello buried in the back
of the song. This might just be a residual cello sound carried
over from the general cultural zeitgeist. Anyway, this song
ends with a nice decent into guitar noise, so much so that it
almost buries her voice.... Very well done.
Guitars whirl and the keys dominate on Half Man, Half Circle,
which again features a strong drum loop that would have been
more powerful had it been played by a human. Poinsette sings
this one in a quiet and almost understated voice that really
works, especially when combined with the dominant keyboard melody.
In the middle, there is a squealing distorted guitar part that
sounds almost mournful when paired with her voice. A very nice
and sad track.
After the understated voice of Half Man, Half Circle,
Poinsette lets it all out on Autopilot. I think that
this song features her best vocal performance on the disc: the
chorus where she sings "Force of habit" over and over on top
of some really fuzzy guitar arpeggios is simply sublime. The
guitars and the keyboard melody are good here too, and there
is some nice military drumming in this song. On the whole, this
is a fun catchy song.
Reflections has an electronica/synth pop opening. Seesawing
guitar arpeggios fade in, but the keys remain in front. There
is a great keyboard solo (well, almost solo) in the middle,
when the guitars recede into a low hum and the drumming becomes
Beneath The Flood starts out mourfully, with slow aching
guitars. Poinsette's voice joins in, singing very intensely.
This song is laden with tension from the drum machine to the
guitars to her voice. The tension is relaxed a little by the
feedback explosion near the end, but not entirely.
The tension flows right into Broken Verbs, and is finally
released by the explosion of sound in the last half of the song.
Guitars swell and pound the listener, the keys throb in the
background, the drum machine thuds. And the voice sounds great.
This is my favorite guitarwork on the disc -- really loud and
all over the place.
Finally, Isobella wrap up their second album with a slow and
mournful number. Traces ebbs along slowly under Poinsette's
sad voice and tingling guitar arpeggios. It's a nice effect,
as the album fades out to backwards masked guitars and a little
a cappella coda to the whole thing.
Yeah, i like this album alot. I actually got a promo copy of
it in April from the band, and it was pretty much the soundtrack
to my summer. I do have a few comments though.
The Isobella sound is based on whirling guitars and subdued
keyboard melodies. There is a lot going on in the songs. I guess
it's pretty typical of the "shoegazer" genre. Still,
they write catchy melodies and do some lovely things with guitar
sound textures: McLaughlin and Richardson play off of each other
One difference between Akasha and A 24
Syllable Haiku lies in the production. Akasha
was blurry, as if the recording studio could not capture the
band because there was too much sound. Layers upon layers blended
together and created a lovely moosh of noise. A 24 Syllable
Haiku is cleaner and more precise. I really get the
feeling that the band had a much better idea of what they wanted
the output to sound like when they went into the studio this
time. It's a very different effect, but not a bad one.
Another difference is the sterility of the programmed drums.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: i hate drum machines.
That is, i hate it when a band uses a machine to replicate drumming
that could easily be done by a human. At times it seems that
i can't spit in an indie club without hitting an underemployed
drummer, so there it no real excuse for not having one. No excuse,
that is, unless you want to do other things with the rhythms
in your band. Isobella's swirling guitar and keyboard sound
could be well-accompanied by electronica style "drums". I am
thinking of glitchy hits and wierd noises, not just 4/4 time
on the snare featured here. I guess we will have to see where
Isobella go with this.
I also think that Laura Poinsette's voice is worth mentioning.
I mentioned how she sounds like Sinead at times, and i know
how that will annoy some people. But again, this is the first
album where she is the lead singer. Her voice is becoming more
forceful and clearer as she becomes more confident in singing.
And it's not unlistenable at any time. In fact, in general i
would say that she has a good voice, and that it works well
within the framework of Isobella's music. However, well, that
Sinead thing might annoy some people -- so be warned! On the
whole, i think that her vocals are good but still developing.
So i come back to what i said of Isobella after that first
time i saw them: they are a young band with some great ideas
and a lot of talent. They have given us a lovely album that
is not as perfect as their first, but that shows a lot of promise.
Now, when am i gettting the next album?