I’m going to be perpetrating some musical musings for a new blogsite, Pressto – the guys aim for honest, in-depth reviews and write ups of both local and international music. Some of said reviews promise to be bloody hilarious, too – especially if you’re a fan of the Watkykjy style of writing. Go check out the site here: www.pressto.co.za/
Below is my first Pressto write-up, on ISO’s EP Passages.
Rock out to ISO without disturbing your beard
ISO frontman Richard Brokensha has a very particular kind of stage presence. As a friend sighed at the recent launch of the band’s new EP Passages at the Sandton Hard Rock Café, “I wouldn’t tie him to the bed, but I would take him home and feed him a nice, big glass of milk.” Yes. Full cream, preferably.
So he doesn’t exactly have the sex appeal of, say, a diminutive but intense Jared Leto (sjarrap, Dronk). But Richard and the rest of the ISO crew capture your attention regardless with their joyous on-stage presence: a testimony to their love of music and performing.They were rocking Hard Rock patrons and impressing some junior journos and hipsterish audience members no end – and even us jaded hacks were swept along. Lots of tapping feet and nodding heads, people.
Theirs is a big sound. Call it lush, or anthemic. When it’s rolling over the Oppikoppi vlaktes (or filling the nooks and crannies of the Hard Rock Café, as it were), there’s no denying how slick they play together. They really get each other.
They mixed old hits and new, and even did a magical version of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby – it shouldn’t have worked… But it did. Hell yes, it did.
Passages follows hot on the heels of their acclaimed fourth full-length studio album, Piece by Piece. It’s very much the “It Sound” of the moment: lots of keyboards, synths, electro dance beats and dreamy musical soundscapes. Think Chvrches, Mr Little Jeans, a bit of Imagine Dragons, some Brandon Flowers hints. You can dance to it, drink to it, maybe even rock out to it without disturbing your beard too much. “Different to their older Death Cab for Cutie vibes,” says previously mentioned friend.
Richard’s voice has an almost androgynous purity that vaguely reminds you of Owl City’s Adam Young. I must admit, his vocals stymie me when trying to form an honest opinion about ISO: sometimes bothersome, as if the melodies need a richer voice to support it, at other times soothingly suitable.
Luckily, ISO’s lyrics and melodies aren’t as cutesy twee as the firefly-loving Adam’s. Cynics could complain, though, that there isn’t much meat to their musings, and that it’s actually a bit naive and simplistic, even while optimistic in general. Well, yes – this ain’t no The National or Nick Cave, folks. You’re going to listen, perhaps sing along, and then almost instantly forget what’s just been said. The lyrics do, however, suit Richard’s voice and work well with the more intricate melodies.
This is where the real magic lies: ISO’s technical knowledge of music and how they build a song into something truly beautiful. It’s planned out, artfully structured and perfectly finished. It grabs your attention, works up from a slow burn to a full-on sonic explosion or sweet melancholy segues. You want them to play LOUD – and they do. It helps, then, that Richard’s voice makes each syllable crystal clear. No grungy groaning allowed.
The band went from doing their own post-production on Piece by Piece to working with Peach Van Pletzen (Bittereinder, Yesterday’s Pupil, Shu) at Sleeproom Studios in Pretoria. Peach is an old hand, and a dab one – he’s a good choice if you’re looking for a slick end result, which Passages is.
ISO’s music is commercially viable and they’re radio darlings, as singles No Fire and Heaven off of Piece by Piece and Never going back off Passages, prove.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a boring rehash of made-for-radio recipes- they’re bringing out good quality sounds that will stand up on stages from Oppi to Berlin. That is also where their music works best: on stage, where you can see and feel the energy and experience their vibe. When listening only to an album, things tend to blend into an innocuous, though pretty, whole.
Musically, it’s beautiful. Lyrically, it’s pure pop fluff – don’t expect any profound realisations or life-changing insights. Steer way clear if you hate the electronic synthy vibe, and prefer rich, meaty voices and storytelling.
1. Never Going Back
2. Give Me Something To Believe In
3. The Place That I Know
5. Not Afraid
- ISO is Richard Brokensha (vocals, guitar), Marko Benini (Drums & Backing Vocals), Alex Parker (keyboards, backing vocals) and Franco Schoeman (Bass, backing vocals).
- The band’s name was Isochronous, once. They changed it to ISO because Isochronous “made it more difficult for new fans to access our band,” and “it was too difficult to pronounce.” Eh? Some irrelevant education: Isochronous means “occuring at the same time”. It’s pronounced, roughly, Ay-sock-kriniss. Iso is a combining form meaning “equal”. Now you know.
- Why is Passages an EP instead of a full album? Because it’s something easier to consume. “There’s so much new music and new sounds nowadays, that we felt we’d rather focus on making a few songs sound great.”
- They called the EP Passages because it refers to passages in time. “It’s a metaphor for a certain path a person takes that changes the direction of their life. When writing the lyrics, we thought about major things in our lives that made you remember a time or place with a great sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia plays a big part in this record and the title Passages portrayed that in a strong visual sense.”
- Press release blurb: “The EP contains 5 brand new songs from ISO. The first two songs are brothers and the next two are sisters. The brothers have a space rock sound following on from our previous record. The sisters have an entirely different approach where the fundamental instruments in the band are re-imagined in a modern context. The drums especially change dramatically over the course of the EP, changing and morphing as the record progresses. The final song lays Brokensha’s voice bare. His voice can be vulnerable and delicate, and the band wanted to showcase this.”