t is strange that, with their most cohesive sounding release to date, in the recent Lucky Cat LP, that ISAN also produced one of their weakest collections of music. That is to say, as the sound became more cohesive around a prescribed sort of kitchtronic set of sounds, the overall effect of the LP was a homongenization of all of the interesting things that the group had been attempting to do beforehand. Instead of the more dreamy and experimental sounds of Salamander and Beautronics, the group delivered a very close to the vest pop album that provided all of the traditional elements that one would expect from a Morr Music artist. In doing this, something was lost- something of their original interesting take on the kitschtronic sound was gone from the group’s output.
Tracing the course of the group’s releases has been a tiring one, filled with limited edition singles and EP’s that can rarely be found outside of mp3 copies, nowadays. The group has changed all this with the release of Clockwork Menagerie, which collects all of the tracks that may have slipped through the cracks of the average IDM listeners radar. The rare tracks that have been increasingly hard to find, charting the progress of the group’s work are all here.
The main thing lacking in ISAN’s Lucky Cat release was the sense of experimentation with sound and song structure. This can be found on the opening track of this collection, “Autolung”, among many others. A simple repeating industrial hum emerges at the opening of the track, eventually merging with a repeated wash of ambience and a dub-esque bass. This bassline becomes almost overbearing when the first two elements fade away, leaving the listener uncomfortable with its odd place in the mix. It doesn’t quite line up with the simple rhythm that has been constructed by the first two elements. This bass, however, takes over the song and adds an undercurrent in the second movement of the song, which features a rolling snare pattern and the gradual uncovering of a melody that would fit right in on Lucky Cat. The ambient wash also reemerges to fit nicely into the mix, allowing the first movement to mesh nicely within the context of the whole song.
It’s beautiful moments like this, where songs come together in ways that you would never think possible, that make many of the songs on Clockwork Menagerie superior to the simplicity of the pop ditties found on Lucky Cat. There is much to be said for the pop numbers on that LP, but it simply doesn’t hold up as an exciting and original document, as much as Clockwork Menagerie does.
Of course, there are also a number of interesting pop numbers to be found on the disc. Both “Betty’s Lament” and “Damil85” showcase some of the group’s finest earlier work in this vein, mixing memorable melodies and tasteful vocal samples. It’s on tracks like “Uim”, “Schema”, and “Comb” that ISAN truly shine, in an original and exciting fashion, using elements a bit more foreign to the kitschtronic genre- and make it an ultimately more rewarding listen.
Obviously a varied affair, Clockwork Menagerie sees ISAN unconsciously trying out different variations on the same theme- how to make the perfect mix of beautiful melody and the experimental aspect of the IDM genre. With the release of Lucky Cat the group has seemed to have taken the route of a more pop route, here’s hoping that they add a few more surprises, like the ones found on the best songs of Clockwork Menagerie, on their next proper full length.