Release DetailsLABEL N/A
RELEASED ON 7/1/2007
Of Crimson Clouds In Nectaris Milk
posted on 8/2007 By:
On the surface, Isthmus, on Of Crimson Clouds In Nectaris Milk, their second release (they put out a self-released LP before this), seem to fit in rather snuggly with those bands that were birthed after the NeurIsis boom, fusing the once-disparate worlds of “atmospheric sludge*” and post-rock together, using the former’s pacing and metallic riffing and the latter’s loud/soft dynamic (which is a nice way of saying that you‘ve heard all of this before). But, the complexity of the riffs could, at some point, set the band apart. Because of the more intricate lines, Isthmus tends to cuddle up next to older instrumental math rock (I’m constantly reminded of A Minor Forest, Ativin, etc., not so much in feeling, but the way the riffs twist and turn), and might even bring comparisons to a more deliberate (read: way slower) Dysrhythmia when things get moving (the title track especially, after the tongue in cheek “Raining Blood”-esque intro). The ways that some of these lines play out are different and the transitions are seamless, which, to me anyway, could mean that those that can’t jive with the perceived lack of technical flair in either of the aforementioned posts, might get a kick out of this. So, really, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking Bossk with a focus on quirky, more complex songwriting instead of atmosphere/emotion.
Pretty cut and dry, right? Well, sort of. The problem that I run into with this release is how to listen to the damn thing. My main question is this: Should this be more of a passive or an active listen? The fact that the music demands your attention to wring full enjoyment out of it contradicts what’s seen as (unfairly or not) post-rock’s place in the musical spectrum: purely as passive mood/background music (I‘ve grown to regard those post-Tortoise outfits with purty lil' guitars as little more than the new easy listening). Like most post-metal though, Isthmus usually only uses the sound of post-rock for texture, forgoing the long, drawn out sections of echo and delay drenched guitar for a more apparent and more active rise and fall. But, realize that there’s not a whole lot of “metal” here either (They get about as heavy as The Postman Syndrome, which is to say, not very heavy at all), and the scant instances that do pop up only seem to get in the way of the more restrained, complex build-ups. To make matters worse, the poor production values let them down, as the overall sound quality is not nearly as powerful it could be, and even the seldom used pained howls can’t really offer enough of a contrast to the progressive riff stacking sans vocals (the split: maybe 80% clean guitars, 20% distortion/screaming). So, this leads the listener towards this damned if you do (active?), damned if you don’t (passive?) quandary. The way the riffs are constructed calls for you to clear your mind and concentrate on how these lines reach their conclusion, but that conclusion often isn’t worth the effort involved to get there. Likewise, if you pull back and you don’t dig too deep, the songs just plod along. So, even though whichever listening strategy you employ will dictate how much you enjoy Of Crimson Clouds In Nectaris Milk, the final result never seems to justify your choice. That might be a bit of a problem. Of course, the fact that the music isn’t all that interesting to begin with is a bigger one.
But, what I do find interesting about Isthmus is their band bio. Granted, all bands have that section where they take on comparisons and, like your résumé, there’s usually a little fibbing going on (I don't know about you, I just pass out buisness cards with only the words "seven inches" inscribed on them and wink the entire interview). Now, I am definitely not calling Isthmus liars, but their comparisons are, shall we say, “intriguing” and shed more light on the stage they’re in as a band. Here, King Crimson and The Dillinger Escape Plan apparently rub shoulders and it’s not too far of a stretch to entertain thoughts of Queens of the Stone Age(!) and Magma(!!) either. To be honest, even if you played In the Court of the Crimson King and Calculating Infinity simultaneously, injected the pulverized dust of a blended Rated R disc (“QotSA smoke, don’t breath this”) into my veins, smashed me repeatedly over the head with a baseball bat on which the entire Kobaian saga was etched, and then asked me who Isthmus sounded like, I still don’t think those would be the names I’d drop ("Oh, SMACK! post-metal SMACK!"). But, it shows that, maybe, Isthmus still hasn’t found their voice and they're in the process of building towards those lofty benchmarks (Aside: If you dudes actually add some zeuhl, I'll love you forever). What I’m trying to say is that it’s okay that Of Crimson Clouds In Nectaris Milk sounds a little generic, a little been-there-done-that, because Isthmus is a young band and while their goals are clearly defined, their music isn’t…yet. Look, I don’t drop-kick toddlers into walls for not having mastered language, so I certainly don’t rake young bands over the hot critic coals for not quite breaking away from the pack. You have to start somewhere, right? Me, I’m interested in seeing where Isthmus ends up, because I think they’ll produce some solid, complex, and rewarding tunes once they find their way.
*Not that post-metal is much better, but I can’t believe this almost became a legitimate genre title. So, here’s my challenge to you: Let’s brainstorm and settle on a name for this stuff. It’s been getting press in above ground outlets for the past two years (the New York Times, for god’s sake!), yet whenever someone asks us to describe it, we pull a, “Well, they kind of sound like Godflesh…with pretty bits…and maybe a slow Breach…obsessed with jangly bits…“ like we can't think up a good enough title to lump this shit under. Enough. The lashes are now open.
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