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Life Somewhere Else




Communicating Vessels

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Isidore is the collaboration between Steve Kilbey (who you might know from such bands as The Church) and Jeffrey Cain, who used to be in Remy Zero. I have been a Church fan for a long time, but i find this whole Remy Zero thing interesting. I was barely aware of the band when they were around in the late 1990s, but since they have broken up, i have thoroughly enjoyed the next projects of two of the band's members. Isidore is one, the other of course being the O + S collaboration, which saw Orenda Fink working with Remy Zero bassist Cedric LeMoyne. Huh. Maybe i need to go back and listen to Remy Zero's records.

Anyway, there is a neat story about how Isidore came into existence. If you have read any other review of the band, you have already heard it, so skip ahead to the next paragraph as i am contractually obligated by The Music Criticism Act of 1957 to repeat this story. Okay, here it is. Apparently Cain is a big Church fan, and he ran into Steve Kilbey somewhere and gave him a demo of an instrumental record he had just finished. A few months later, Kilbey mailed it back to him, but with vocals added over the instrumentals. Cain thought he was showing off his work to a personal hero, while Kilbey thought Cain wanted to work with him.

So this is the second full-length record from Isidore, and it comes eight years after their last collaboration. I guess mailing things between Alabama and Australia takes a while.

Musically, there is a lot to like here. Of course it has Steve Kilbey's voice, that distinctive rich baritone. And it has Steve Kilbey lyrics, that odd poetry he does that some people (myself included) like, but others might not. Cain, for his part, is pretty good at constructing pop tunes. He is a guitarist by trade, but he apparently does the whole shebang here. These songs vary between light and delicate guitar ballads to grinding rockers. For the most part they are mid-tempoed, reflective pieces that showcase Cain exploring guitar structures while Kilbey plays with words. To be honest, this isn't that different from the last few Church records.

There are fourteen songs here, and the record clocks in at about an hour, so there is a lot of music. Let's just go over the highlights, although i don't think that there are any weak tracks here.

Song of the City is a great light pop tune. Cain strums away on an acoustic guitar while Kilbey sings lightly, his voice reverbing over the steady guitar and light percussion accompaniment. Eventually Cain brings in a sparse piano bit and some nice synth strings, as Kilbey croons along. In a way, this reminds me of After Everything, Not This-era Church.

The next tune is rather different. It is called Old Black Spirit and is nicely jazzy, with an insistent yet not urgent drum beat as the guitars strum and Kilbey rants about the need to drink, and then sings about booze. A love song to alcohol?

Some Reverse Magic has a nice, flat rhythm, Cain tapping a tight snare. He also layers the guitars, one layer strumming and one chiming, making this song a summery dreampop tune, like what The Ocean Blue were doing on their first record.

Isidore rock out on Just Dust, the percussion here a mechanical beat as Cain plays guitar under a wavering distortion. Over this, Kilbey rants, spitting out his lyrics in a way that reminds me of Aura from Priest = Aura. The song gets really loud and dense as Cain noodles away and Kilbey plays with the band's name, chanting "Is, is, is a door". Good stuff.

And after rocking out, the next track is a nigh-perfect pop tune called Belle In Mid Air. The beat chugs along over supple bass and chiming guitar. It just moves along happily and steadily for about five minutes. It really reminds me of the stuff The Church have been doing on their past few records.

Now, those are just the songs that i really like. You might find something else to like here, as there is a lot of diversity (i didn't even go over the industrial sounding Recoil or the Beatles-esque pop of You Will Remain). I am really impressed with this record. Of course, re-reading my review i seem to be gushing about this as a Church record. The presence of Steve Kilbey and that voice i have known for so long naturally brings these kinds of comparisons to mind.

However, Jeffrey Cain is not just trying to replicate Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes. He has his own guitar style that, while influenced by those two guitarists, also throws in a bit of Johnny Marr. Plus, he did all of the music aside from the voice, and he did it well. The songs are rich and dense, and are more than just a showcase for Kilbey's words. Cain did a wonderful job here.

So i am impressed. This is a damned fine record.

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