Isabel At Sunset
Meet the Gang
efore we begin, step behind this curtain for a second. Meet The Gang was brought to my attention by a Tea Kettle representative (unleash the payola theories). Unlike most of the mass-mailed, worthless spam touting THE GREATEST EVER RECORD SINCE OUR LAST ONE, this chap was straightforwardly friendly without being creepy, desperate, or annoying. Perhaps he sent hopeful mail to other Stylus staff too—but with me he used the secret code phrase “Comsat Angels,” which suggested he at least knew what I liked. All of this came as a pleasant surprise; especially during a time when many promoters seem happy just to throw increasing piles of crap in all directions and hope something sticks.
But enough backstage shenanigans.
Isabel At Sunset are a five-piece from Parma. They've taken quirky, literate guitar pop as their inspiration and recorded a set of slightly offbeat tunes about ... well, I'm not always sure—but the lyrics flow convincingly enough. It would be easy and rather patronizing to suggest that use of a second language may have contributed to the wordy weirdness (vocalist Alain sings in English), and I'd prefer to think that non-sequiturs like "Outsmart the Big Jake!" have been carefully planned for maximum whimsical impact. Indeed, by the time conservationist sentiments like "I never dine on dinosaurs" are popping up, the preceding tracks will have conditioned you into thinking this is perfectly normal.
Just to throw us all off the scent of their influences, Isabel's opening flurry "Hey Dude" employs more banjo than is strictly permitted by international health regulations. This dangerous ploy is thankfully relegated after this initial burst, and relatively normal service emerges thereafter. The ditties which follow are fairly indebted to the noises popularized by Pavement and their ilk (said band even gets a name-check)—though perhaps toned down a touch, as though the guitar work doesn't wish to upstage the lyrics. Sporadic hooks come and go, rhythms change and morph (though rarely into anything too bizarre), and a bouncing beat keeps everyone in the mood for a good time inside the wacky world we've been ushered into.
However, that's really all just a backdrop for the most interesting aspect—those curious narratives. Made all the more enigmatic by the measured, arguably quite hammy, pronunciation, these tales keep you guessing as to what might lay behind the next syllable. Perhaps the shocking admission "we discriminated against metal girls" (girls made out of metal, rather than Slayer fans? I hope so!) or references to "Danny the Cheese" (I'm assuming some kind of gangster mouse with a monopoly on Gorgonzola smuggling). This isn't a shameful “ho ho, crazy foreign vocals eh readers?” schtick—it's a happy accident of origin which adds an excellent linguistic spin to some otherwise well-travelled ground. Slow-burning "Just Me in the Mirror," for example, contains a magnificent delivery of the word “fuck,” which you're unlikely to hear uttered in quite the same way anywhere else.
These peculiarities aren't really enough to propel the record beyond a “pretty decent” tag, but they certainly keep it interesting beyond initial expectations, and turn a pleasant listen into something with explorable depths. Ultimately, the band flaunt their inspirations a little too blatantly to offer anything truly different—but the enjoyable, knock-about image they present is a skill in itself. So whilst the originality of sound is in question, it's jaunty fun while it lasts.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2007-09-06