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Isidore review by Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 July 2004

This review was originally posted at by the fine people of

Isidore - Isidore

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Reported by: Luke - Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004. 23:45

Convoluted work processes can often produce unlistenable records. It?s true: experimentalism, rule-based composition, cut-ups and general arsing about in the studio have sometimes brought something curiously essential to light. But mostly, such efforts sound more like indulgence than an item of interest.

But where others have failed, Steve Kilbey (of The Church fame) and Jeffrey Cain (formerly of Remy Zero) have succeeded. They?ve also managed to deliver one of those Sunday afternoon albums that evoke a happily tired thoughtfulness from the listener. Indeed, the change that this project has brought on its progenitors makes it onto the album.

We?ve been searching
Out in places never seen
Yeah, we?ve been looking
Lookin? like a change of scene

sings Kilbey on Musidora, a sort of opening statement of how off the map for both musos the creation of this disc was. (Not to mention being the most dreamily gauzy love song ever written to mention pawn-shop Fender guitars and Austin Lancers in the same breath.) It?s all the more telling once you discover that this was a disc that was recorded via long-distance, with Cain producing the music and Kilbey laying down vocals in response to pictures he was sent, along with the tunes.

Aptly, Isidore ? amongst other meanings ? is a Spanish saint who?s now the patron saint of the Internet. Perhaps the gods were watching as the two bandmates toiled in separate countries. Certainly, what?s created here verges, at times, on the divine. The delicate filigree of Kilbey?s writing pairs perfectly with Cain?s musical palette. Perhaps it?s because there?s so much of The Church?s teardrops-and-glitter style over the songs, but there?s a true sense of coming together, of a meeting of musical minds exploring the same directions. The grand gesture looms large in what?s recorded on Isidore: The Memory Cloud?s almost martial descriptions of a dour history (all plangent bass and echoed drumwork) are married with soaring vocal riffs of an almost operatic nature. It?s a pairing that works in these hands ? others wouldn?t be quite so lucky. Widescreen sounds are pulled off with subtlety and aplomb.

Given that it?s neither entirely guitar-based ? though there?s plenty of meaty axework here ? nor entirely constructed from a box of electronics, the album comes across as a sort of intercontinental hangover. There?s the feeling of wooziness ? something long-time fans of The Church will be more than familiar with ? dripping across the disc. And while it?s often particularly layered, there?s also moments of more simplistic beauty. As Kilbey sings,

Tiny little flints produce tiny little sparks

- something Cain?s music sometimes takes on. It?s the little touches here that occasionally makes this album a king hit in a velvet glove.

Refused On Temple Street is perhaps one of the most lazily beautiful songs of recent years. A thumbnail sketch of dissolution, of a power-shift, played out beneath intertwined guitars ? one gently, insistently strumming, the other so liquid it could be oozing out of the speakers. And while there?s a directness, a reportage almost that?s a departure for Kilbey?s vocals ?

And you talk about our time together
And it seemed so long ago
How?d you ever get to be so enchanting and so low?

? there remains a sense (as ever) of obliqueness to the lyrics here. It?s difficult to find out exactly what?s going on ? meaning in the song keeps slipping along, ?a little blurry at the edges?, just like the characters down on the street of the title. Multitracked, ghostly voices perform a wordless, beckoning backing to the tune, which marries personality-free drum-machine rigidity with guitarwork that sounds so liquid that it could well be dripping out of the speakers. There?s something of a less-overwrought Cure in the sound. Mystery dominates ? snatches of just-heard conversation drift by, just before the main vocal sadly speaks to beware the cinder that glows ? it?s burning more than you suppose. There?s an overwhelming feeling of regret over what might have been, of disappointment ? but not a glumness. Melancholia? Sure; but there?s no sadness, just a sort of breeze-filled emptiness. It?s a departure, given the sort of tendency for miserablism that some of the bands working in the more emotional side of things often have.

Part of the appeal of Isidore is also its most frustrating feature. Steve Kilbey?s writing is, perhaps, more open at this point than it?s ever been. There?s a sense of honesty which, while it?s always been apparent in his work, is a little more naked than before. Vocals are pushed more ? there?s a lot of chances taken with the songs, and they pay off in spades when they work well ? but they?re also hidden, darting around corners and slipping out before you can fully grasp what?s been said. Textually open and sometimes obscure in execution, it?s tricky, and somewhat annoying at times, but the lush descriptions of the ephemeral are so juicy, so intriguing that it?s difficult to hold a grudge about it.

In terms of mature, layered songwriting and performance, many of the tracks on Isidore are light-years ahead of anything that U2 have produced of late. It might sound strange to reference the stadium-show band in the same breath as something as low-key as Isidore, but it?s an apt comparison. Why? At the height of their powers ? think of the expansive Achtung Baby (and beyond) excursions into textured sound ? the band gestured towards tunes like Isidore?s Sanskrit. Perhaps it?s just that Kilbey?s vocals here attain the same 4am solipsistic investigative burr as Bono most comprehensively, but the literate nature of both singers? lyrics makes the pairing seem right somehow. ?Yesterday?s gone and it?s better that way? is a line repeated over and over throughout ? a sort of tribute to a dissolution of the self, of a loss of past. A rootlessness is evoked through the e-bowed guitar undulations across the track, as the singer talks about trying to regain what?s done, played off against the concept of what sounds like predestination. Meditative is probably the word you?d use to describe it, and it translates well for the whole album ? this is a thoughtful, mature work with all of the introspection, but none of the self-indulgent navel-gazing.

The album also features a hidden track, entitled No Passage. It?s not hidden at the end of a normal track, thankfully ? it?s got its own index marker, but no track-listing mention. It?s possibly included because it shows more of a ?band? dynamic than the rest of the tracks here, at least in its recording. The only song on the album to have a writing team that?s not just Kilbey and Cain, it?s important because it features the input of other musos in the recording, too ? Gregory Slay on drums and Cedric Lemoyne on bass and possibly indicates that the project might expand and become a more tourable collective. Again, though, the disc?s dominant concept of change, and of the precious, fleeting nature of the everyday comes to the fore, with the line

I woke up in Rozelle
Or maybe I died

conveying just how the mundane and the massive can be swapped with ease, as well as giving another dose of Sydney-centricity to the disc. (Listen to Saltwater and tell me that?s not a love song to Bondi and a particular denizen of that beach suburb.) Continuing, the listener?s treated to what seems like a fairly important peek inside Kilbey?s mind at the current time.

I got myself together
Transcended my limitations
Some folks in the ether
Heard my lamentations

Touched by an angel? Maybe. But it?s hopeful, moreso than much of that musician?s past tunes. There?s missteps along the course of this album ? some of the rhyme schemes of One For Iris Doe sound a bit dodgy, even though it does include the word ?mate? in its bag of tricks (Ben Affleck? Aw, Steve?) ? but more importantly there?s the sense of there being something to look forward to. A positive note is heard ringing through this album, no matter how much sadness or regret might be flowing around. And it?s beautiful.

Creating a review for Isidore is perhaps a bit of a fool?s errand. Their label?s website doesn?t list a bio, or have a gallery or any of the trappings you?d expect. Instead, there?s a manifesto that claims that the duo doesn?t make music to describe what can be described, as well as rejecting the trappings of braying criticism. But what?s been produced as a result is too good to keep hidden. With Isidore, Kilbey and Cain have produced a precious rarity. It?s an album that?s so intensely personal in its nature that it sounds like it was never intended to be heard by ears other than those of its creators ? indeed, at times the sensation one feels while listening is the same guilty, about-to-be-caught shade of emotion that might be experienced while reading others? mail. But it?s an album that?s also immensely, compulsively listenable. A rainy-day soundtrack of breathless beauty, this is the sort of album you want to tell people about? but you?ll pause before you do, mentally debating whether you really want to share something so lovely with anyone else.

Serve with rain, big cups of tea and a melancholy that you can?t quite shake.

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