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Robert Lurie's review of 2nd Isidore album Print E-mail
Saturday, 03 March 2012

It's always a treat to see Robert's writing. Here he reviews the 2nd and long-awaited Isidore album "Life Somewhere Else". This is from BlurtOnline

 

An unfolding progression of songs in the running for the best work of Steve (The Church) Kilbey's career - not to mention the exquisite and innovative Jeffrey (Remy Zero) Cain's arrangements. Life Somewhere Else is out this week on the Communicating Vessels label.

 

By Robert Dean Lurie

 

"When someone asks me to what extent my work is autobiographical, I say, 'Every word is autobiographical, and every word is fiction.'" - William S. Burroughs, in conversation with Tennessee Williams, 1977.

 

Steve Kilbey - musician, painter, longtime bassist, singer, and lyricist for the Church, and, in recent years, compulsive blogger, has been cranking out a lot of words over the years that could be considered simultaneously autobiographical and fictitious. His songs are typically populated with kings, pharaohs, ancient armies, reincarnated lovers, and all other manner of creative anachronism, and yet nearly every verse contains a bit of personal revelation buried amidst the verbal ornamentation. It doesn't always work; the label "pretentious" has frequently, and with some justification, been levied. But when it does work (which is surprisingly often considering all of the moving pieces at play), the combination of his words and music stand in pretty effectively for just about any recreational drug you would want to take.

 

Isidore, Kilbey's ongoing collaborative project with Jeffrey Cain of the band Remy Zero, poses a potential problem here: with Kilbey relinquishing all musical composition duties to Cain and focusing exclusively on the lyrics, can that crucial, alchemic mix of words and music still be attained? In this case, the answer is an unequivocal yes, as Cain proves himself a talented composer deeply sympathetic to Kilbey's muse. He is so good, in fact, that when Kilbey's lyrics meander toward the ridiculous, as they sometimes do in Isidore's more aggressive numbers, Cain's music always keeps the songs driving forward.

 

Life Somewhere Else (Communicating Vessels), the second full-length Isidore album, improves on its eponymous predecessor in a number of ways: bigger, more ambitious arrangements; tighter songwriting; more focused singing; and, crucially, the use of live drums on many key tracks. Kilbey is still in need of an editor, or at least a "second opinion," on some of his material, but overall the album maintains a base level of "very good" and soars in many places to "superb." Stylistically it runs the gamut from delicate ballads to harsh Iggy and the Stooges-style rockers. The highlight is a remarkable song cycle beginning with track #2, "Life Somewhere Else," and culminating in track 6: "Some Reverse Magic." The lyrics to these songs are the most nakedly personal Kilbey has ever penned, shorn of all but the most necessary poetic language. These mini-narratives address some difficult subjects: domestic discord, alcohol abuse, self-recrimination, anger at God ("Someone up there trying to dislocate me / Someone up there must really fucking hate me" he sings on "Recoil"), all culminating in perhaps the most surprising song of all, "Some Reverse Magic," in which Kilbey addresses Jesus Christ and makes a startling admission: "I never noticed it before / You've walked beside me all the way." Taken as a single statement, this unfolding progression of songs is in the running for the best work of Kilbey's career and, as previously noted, Kilbey is only half of it. Cain's arrangements feature exquisitely blended electric and acoustic guitars, supple yet unobtrusive bass, a mixture of electronic and organic percussion (my one criticism here: I feel that the music would be even stronger if the entire album featured live drums), and keyboard textures that perfectly cast the other instruments in relief. He values melody above all other considerations, and as a result the album is crammed full of hooks - offsetting the sometimes bleak nature of the lyrics.

 

There's something about this music, some hard-to-define quality - the way particular chords go together, perhaps, or the soulful manner in which individual notes are wrung from their instruments - that feels deeper, more poignant than anything on the previous Isidore album. A clue comes from the liner notes, which reveal that Cain's former bandmate (and childhood friend) Gregory Slay passed away shortly before the bulk of the album was recorded. Perhaps, then, Cain's music here is partly born of grief. Whatever the cause, Jeffrey Cain is the true star of Isidore II - and considering how strong Kilbey's contribution is, that's really saying something.

 

Any Remy Zero or Church fan would be well-advised to pick this up. And, for those listeners of the church who may have previously felt intimidated by the avalanche of solo/side projects on offer from Kilbey and co., this is a good place to start. Isidore doesn't really feel like a "side" anything. It's a main event.

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