We review the new album from Ember Rev – Isolophilia
Cambridge Art Rock outfit Ember Rev offer up a unique mix of synth and storytelling with new LP, Isolophilia. A project which pushes the boundaries to see what they can achieve, they have found great success here with this combination of great writing and heavy use of electronic sounds to really hone their own unique sound.
The twinkling synths and sparse guitar riffs of instrumental piece Mir I get us underway, as these rising electronic sounds contrast meticulously with the deep rumbling flashes of bass to set the tone of the intriguing mix of noises that lie ahead. Mercurial takes the baton perfectly and the album really hits its stride here, with the opening half of the track having an almost tribal feeling, with elongated ‘Ahh’s and ‘Yeahh’s adding a ceremonial vibe to the mixing pot of sounds. The track builds and builds in introduction before dropping out to leave only a few distant key sounds to accompany the first ‘real’ lyrical content.This is the first real introduction to their slightly idiosyncratic style and the off kilter feeling that runs through their music, becoming pretty experimental in places
Next to come is the track which has been chosen as the single release for the album, Dives and Lazarus. This carries on the theme of being both intriguing and hypnotically confusing in places, as the mix of acoustic guitars with some more unconventional electronic sounds succeed in keeping you glued to the speaker from start to finish. In places it almost has the feeling of reading a surrealist novel, as the lyrics match up to the instruments in their weird and wonderfulness brilliantly.
We’re then back into instrumentals for two tracks. Carousel brings with it a funkier beat than the previous tracks, taking some of the elements from the opening track but with a much bigger and more dynamic sound driven once again by sparkling synth rhythms top guitar and bass patterns A burst of fun energy after two more serious and defined tracks. Aptly, following on from that is After The Carousel. Much like the name would suggest, it’s a little more pedestrian in its pace than its predecessor track as the beats slow down a little. The mixture of weird and wonderful noise conjures up images of retro gaming with its tirelessly repetitive sounds. It does ,though, subtly build and drop throughout until the real change up late in the track which brings it to a melancholy, whistling end.
Insignificance brings with it a bit of a change-up from what’s come before, as it opts to swap the synth-heavy backtracks for an acoustic ringing of guitar, and does so successfully. It definitely feels influenced by, or at least reminiscent of, the stereotypical Spanish guitar sound, with the soft, gently ringing out vibrations throwing images of sun-soaked seaside getaways into the mind. It also possesses deeper, more meaningful lyrics than the rest of the album as he bemoans love, loss, and as the name suggests, a bleak sense of worthlessness. It does build up to a fuller sound to finish, but still more stripped back than the rest of the album on the whole, and a welcome change up on an album that seems determined to keep you on your toes.
That playful electronic sound that runs through the veins of Isolophilia can’t be contained for long as the echo of keys is back immediately in the intro to Underdogs. This has to be called the most complete song on the album as it seems to most successfully combine all their skills in lyrical imagery and big instrumental patterns, the result of which is a distinctively Bowie-esque sound. Whether or not Bowie had any influence on them when writing this or not, it certainly seems to echo his earlier sound, but it a way that feels like more of a homage, rather than a replica. The most impressive thing about the track is how it showcases both the raw talent in the songwriting and the mastery of the production which they pull together so wonderfully throughout the album.
The enviable task of following that up falls to Ecco. A short but memorable track squeezed in between two which may jump out at you more, but this acts as a perfect breakwater to stop those bigger production songs merging into one. Minimalist with one repetitive synth sound droning behind as the lyrics carry this one forward, it almost feels like it acts as an introduction for its successor Towards an Endless Ascent. An entrancing beat reminiscent of the famous intro to Blondies Heart Of Glass opens the track up and carries it along just long enough for a soothing accordion to take over, and this transferring of sounds continues throughout the four-and-a-bit minutes. This is definitely the most intentionally lopsided of the instrumental tracks as a real mixture of sounds combine to create what almost feels like four-or-five songs in one. It gives off the vibe of being created from snippets taken from all over and thrown together to see what would happen, and the results, almost surprisingly, are transfixing.
We come full circle with Mir II bringing the proceedings to an end in a similar fashion to how its near-namesake opened it up. Another glittery instrumental piece that deals in subtlety as its sounds to and fro whilst slowly phasing out over the course of seven minutes to bring their creation to a fittingly smooth end.
It’s hard to define just what they have set out to create with Isolophilia. It’s somewhere between an art project and a synth album, but it’s safe to say whatever they wanted to achieve, they have surely done so. This is a very brave release, and their boldness has paid off and more with how it has turned out. One to definitely give a listen to below.