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TRACK LIST: 1. Isabel I 2:48 2. Isabel II 3:45 3. Isabel III 5:32 4. Isabel IV 4:40 5. Isabel V 6:01 6. Isabel VI 6:34 7. Isabel VII 3:38 8. Isabel VIII 5:53 9. Isabel IX 3:45 10. Isabel X 3:45 11. Isabel XI 6:52 12. Kyrie 3:30 LINEUP: Jeff Brenneman – guitars; synthesizer Dirk Doucette – drums; bass, guitars Meg Maryatt – vocals; guitars; synth Jackson Del Rey – synth; guitars, bass; vocals With: Jean Sudbury – violin, viola Julien Imstepf – bass Erik Stein – vocals Lea Reis – backing vocals Chris Bergstrom – surbahar Jon Boux – piano, synthesizer
Prolusion. The US band 17 PYGMIES started out back in 1982, and until they went on hiatus in the 1990's established themselves as a post-punk band. 2007 saw the band revive again, now with a desire to explore music closer related to progressive rock. Seven studio albums have seen the light since then, of which "Isabel" from 2013 is the most recent.
Analysis. The latest studio effort by this US band is one that will find favor amongst those fond of gentle, tranquil beauty first and foremost. A certain passion for instrumental music will be needed too, as about half the songs fall into this category. To the slight dismay of those who find the lead vocals of lead vocalist Meg Maryatt to be one of the vital ingredients of this bands expression I suppose. As this is a conceptual production I surmise that the music follows the development of the storyline. This without checking, as I tend to focus on the music itself. But the manner in which this album develops suggests a very close tie between music and storyline. The initial phase consists of delicate, fragile constructions with something of a chamber music or chamber rock feel about them. Gentle guitar motifs supported by acoustic violins, percussion details and subtle sound effects. Delicate, light toned affairs that have a distinct handle with care mood about them. When the vocals enter in the third chapter the frail character of the opening parts has started to fill out, although the vocal passages remain delicate. The fourth chapter adds the darker parts of the tonal register to the proceedings too in it's concluding half, a creation of solemn beauty followed by somber beauty. From then on the music slowly unfolds from the initial frail chamber music inspired constructions to a more purebred symphonic inspired one, still with delicate passages when vocals are present, but transitions of the latter applied also to arrangements richer in sound and texture start developing. The eighth chapter adds electronic based undercurrents and a somewhat more dramatic expression to the canvas utilized, the following explores more of an eastern inspired, mystical landscape with sitar inspired motifs and drones thoroughly expanding the sound palette utilized. When the storyline concludes in the eleventh and longest part, this is also the most sophisticated of the compositions, sporting richly layered arrangements, a stronger and more distinct rhythm foundation (albeit still relatively sparse) and reintroduce the acoustic strings from the initial phases to supplement the digital ones also used. Effective use of organ adds an additional depth to this symphonic art rock construction, which takes the album full circle when it ebbs out on a frail violin note. Final track Kyrie, presumably not a direct part of the storyline, features dual male and female lead vocals, elegant symphonic backdrops and a richly layered arrangement that develops towards a more sparse and delicate final sequence. When reading through these observations, it is worth taking notice of the overall context of this album. This is a slow moving, gentle and fairly tranquil affair throughout. When some detail or other is dramatic it is so within this context, when we're treated to arrangements more richly layered and perhaps even majestic it is still within a framework of gentle, fairly tranquil music. "Isabel" is a production that merits a description as fairly gentle overall I guess, with many moments of solemn beauty and occasional detours into landscapes of a somewhat more somber nature. But always careful and never rushed in any manner whatsoever.
Conclusion. The gentle art of beauty is probably a good manner in which to summarize "Isabel". From delicate chamber rock inspired compositions to those with a more purebred symphonic orientation, these compositions revolve around the gentle, careful and tranquil touch through and through. If this sounds intriguing in general, and a description such as frail symphonic rock is something that intrigues your curiosity, this is a production that merits a check.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: September 12, 2013
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