Isobel and November: Isobel and November – album review
Isobel and November – Isobel and November
CD / DL
Mixing many genres – from krautrock, metal, psych and electronic – Isobel and November produce dense but intricate soundscapes on their second LP.
Heavier than Can and much darker than Joy Division, but with the same occasional specks of light slipping through the crevices to illuminate the song. This self-titled LP by Isobel and November, their second, is demonstrative of elements of krautrock, metal and psychedelia, while at times touching on electronic influences.
The Swedish band grew out of the songs of Per-Erik Söderberg and helpfully or bizarrely, depending on your disposition, you imagine the four piece gathered in a disused medieval castle set on the edge of a Scandinavian forest, demanding their instruments to produce this other worldly, almost brutal music.
Heir gives an early introduction to the layered, droning sound we can expect for the time being. It begins with off-kilter clinking guitar notes and tribal, war-like drums that build and build into a dark frenzy before front man Söderberg’s chanted vocals are delivered very matter of factly – as if he’s in a self-induced trance.
Yeshua with its heavy sustained guitar chords and biblical references is unnerving but compelling. Clocking in at nine minutes and 18 seconds, it provides enough space for the overriding guitar sound to be infiltrated by sporadic synths and a fair degree of experimentation. Söderberg sounds possessed and totally transfixed by the music – his vocals becoming more anguished with every word. It is weighty stuff, and quite jarring at first, but repeated listening rewards and the intricacies of the soundscape reveal themselves with a wonderful subtlety.
Passion introduces an electronic beat married to a hurried rhythm. This is futuristic goth-rock with a groove and it sounds fantastic. It’s the most instantly accessible thing on the record.
On Joy, Söderberg resembles the ghost of a more mature Ian Curtis, bellowing over an atmospheric sci-fi motion-picture soundtrack with tin can drums. It’s brimming with a reserved tenderness and so different to the aggressive guitar rock that has gone before it on the LP.
The guitars return for Tar, but to serve a different purpose – embellishing, rather than driving the music, they provide flashes of colour around the rhythm.
By the time we reach Sovereign #1 it is clearly evident that this record is not done with slinging surprises at you. It dispenses with the ethereal but keeps the intense drama while recalling atonal post-punk.
Sovereign #2 is an altogether different prospect, Söderberg’s distressed vocal is set to a ramshackle punk racket. It’s a mess of feedback and clattering noise. Ritual burns slowly all the way through before ascending into an acerbic caterwaul.
For the first few seconds of Blasphemy I’m half-expecting the Beastie Boys to enter stage left and produce their distinct vocals over the shot-gun beat on a collaboration with XTRMNTR-era Primal Scream. Alas, it never quite happens, but I feel none the poorer as it gives way to a beautiful cavernous din that has me reaching for my tobacco case. I’m back in the sixties grooving to tripped out LA psych-rock, but somehow I already know Jim Morrison’s going to die and Arthur Lee’s gonna end up in jail. It ain’t no hippy trip. In-fact I’m quite revelling in the malevolence of it all.
Luxuria features a dirty bass groove built around minimal percussion and fuzzed-up synths, while Ascension features contrasting tempos set to spoken-word lyrics – another direction to end it.
This is a record that really could be anything it wants to be. It follows no convention, it’s blatantly uncompromising and brazen about it too. You’re never safe, never quite sure where you stand with it and that’s the success – never allowing the listener a second to get comfortable as it rams them with different emotions, textures and gear changes.
Find out more about Isobel and November on Bandcamp.
All words by Rob McNamara. You can read more from him in his author archive.