Swiss Jazz renegades Ikarus beguile with labyrinthine third album Mosaismic taking you on a colourful and dazzling adventure.
Instrumental music can be a brutal double-edged sword. Sure, vocals are technically just another instrument, but they’re a devastatingly effective tool for directly communicate with your audience, either through melody, rhythm, or even literally through language. Furthermore, vocals are easy for the average listener to grip onto, and used as a guiding current through the music. Instrumental music can often feel like being guided to the front of a huge, intimidating maze and having your guide abandon you – ‘See you on the other side!’ Some listeners will find this enthralling, others find it frustrating and may simply just walk away – the very hurdle that all instrumental bands have to tackle is that their very existence can often chop their potential audience in half.
Of course, as with most things in life, it all comes down to the execution. Great instrumental music can fill the vocal void by making their instrumentation sing. Poorly executed instrumental music will often feature noticeable gaps in the composition that expose a lack of depth and experience. Swiss jazz renegades Ikarus aren’t about that shallow life though, and their attention to detail on their latest release Mosaismic and use of glissando emotive movements are achieved through, of all things, obscurity.
Opening track “Meridian” should tell you all you need to know about what Mosaismic has to offer, a seven-minute epic that is as disorienting as it is mesmerising. An unconquerable forest of instrumental beats and frenetic piano lines that skittishly shine through the trees. Male and female vocals stammer individual notes that intersect with the labyrinthine rhythms, like a snake coiling around an improbably shaped object.
The foundation of Mosaismic has an intriguing depth, that is created almost entirely with an intense minimalistic attitude; only a handful of instruments carry the weight of the composition which in turn shifts between dichotomies of unrelenting corybantic momentum to soft yet hazy chamber music. “Ikenophobia” is a perfect example of the latter, almost completed stripped back sparse piano and drums carry the single note vocal duelling creating a sultry softness that not only creates a perfect midpoint, but also adds to the overarching emotive tone of the record.
However, the greatest strengths of Mosaismic are also its greatest weaknesses. With a penchant for complexity, it would be easy to find yourself lost in the web of surging notes. This makes the record incredibly listener mood dependent and certainly rewards repeat voyages, which may not always be guaranteed from an impatient audience member.
By design, the album is disorientating, part frustrating obfuscation, part fascinating mystery. Regardless of personal preference, there’s no denying that the frenetic tumbling of tones, styles, and textures are extremely designed and calculated to the nth degree. In track “Subzero”, it’d be incredibly easy to find yourself lost in a tangle of chaotic leaps as the music surges forward in unthinkable tempos. The vocal flutters switch to become breathy and closer, before spinning into scats that add a strangely unique element to the performance.
In spite of the sheer complexity of Mosaismic, it makes for surprisingly easy listening. It may not be for everyone with its frenetic movements, glissando vocal inserts, and general discordance, but for those who stay the course, Mosaismic can be a very rewarding experience. Overflowing with nuanced textures and challenging harmonies, Ikarus have taken the time to make this a smooth ride for all willing to give it a shot and the end result is both colourful and dazzling. This time, it’s worth taking a step into that maze, because you never know where you may end up.