The older I get (and also the more music I listen to), the more I find myself connecting to Steven Wilson‘s controversial quote where he boldly states ‘I’d rather hear Dave Gilmour playing one note and break my heart, than hearing Joe Satriani playing 300 notes and not touch me in any way at all.’ I never thought I’d see the day where I’d get bored of hearing songs that are nothing but riff salads with winding song structures that take a hundred listens to finally get familiar with what is going on at any given moment. Some bands do this better than others, but this overcomplexity for the sake of being complex and convoluted has mostly lost its charm.
As I continue grow on a personal level, I’ve come to discover that less truly is more and that ultimately bled into what I expect from music as well. I just want to listen to something genuine that will deeply resonate with me; the musical complexity (or lack thereof) matters not anymore. As a result, I find myself gravitating towards artists that focus less on the ‘content’ of the music but crafting luscious sonic escapades that serve as a momentary distraction from the heavily chaotic lives that we live. Sweden’s ISON is one such artist that I’ve been following upon discovering them through a fellow writer on Everything Is Noise with his review on their previous album, AURORA.
Up until this newest release, ISON has been a solo project spearheaded by Daniel Änghede that features many musicians in various capacities, as is especially notable on AURORA, with a different vocalist heard on each track. One particular artist that ISON frequently collaborates with is singer/songwriter Lisa Cuthbert, who has officially made this initial solo project a duo endeavor that begins with STARS & EMBERS. With how well her angelic voice complemented the beyond heavenly soundscapes captured in ISON’s music, it only makes sense that these two individuals joined collaborative forces on a grander scale.
While there are countless post rock bands out there, ISON’s take on the style is one that is unlike any other as it is truly otherworldly, as the album art for STARS & EMBERS would lead you to believe and ultimately deliver on. The tracks that make up this album all contribute to this seamless stream of consciousness with how ethereal and hypnotic these songs are in nature. All you need to do is sit back, kick your legs up, and close your eyes and you’re launched deep into the infinitely expansive cosmos for just over an hour.
From frosty synths and keyboard effects to soft and subtle guitar arpeggiations drenched in the perfect amount of reverb and delay, I can’t help but feel as if I am drifting off deep in space, in complete awe of all that I can see around me. The sonically colorful and vibrant touches to each and every track is highly conducive to the mesmerizing capabilities that the music has to offer. Whenever I feel hopelessly lost and stuck endlessly floating, the gorgeous celestial being depicted on the album art (which you could imagine are portrayed by Cuthbert’s sorrowful vocals) tethers me back to safety only for me to get lost and rescued yet again later on in the album.
There are several moments in which things get quite heavy throughout STARS & EMBERS with your ol’ reliable post rock crescendos and doomy breakdowns, and while they not be found often, their rare appearances make you savor those seldom moments even more. Tracks like “HORIZONS”, “RADIANT VOID”, and “BEINGS OF LIGHT” are prime examples of songs with incredibly soft and tender synthwork to start off, slowly building to these explosions of musical tension resembling that of a supernova; the explosion of a dying star. Whilst these musical supernovae are occurring, the warm synths and keys take a backseat yet are still delicately woven into the background whilst the overdriven guitars and pummeling percussion drive the tracks.
You could say that the tracks found on STARS & EMBERS are monotonous and don’t offer much variety from one song to the next and I wouldn’t disagree with you. The songs found on this record do just start and end with little meat to sink your teeth into, but it is important to keep in mind that this is the type of record that is all about the journey rather than the destination. Whether you decide to hyper-fixate on individual tracks or on the record as an entire entity will ultimately dictate what you get out of the music heard on STARS & EMBERS. All that being said, there is an obviously vast amount of love and attention that went into crafting these massive, swelling walls of sound that reverberate through my very being, all beautifully executed with this intrinsically minimalist approach on a compositional level.
As I was alluding to earlier, ISON’s minimalist take on ambient music with a touch of post rock makes for a mesmerizing journey that leaves a powerful impression on me more than any shredfest of a song could ever leave. STARS & EMBERS is an otherworldly musical experience that transcends our own understanding of the universe and whatever may exist beyond it. Perhaps this is the closest we’ll ever get to understanding what we don’t understand as the universe beyond our planet is truly infinite. If that isn’t absolutely bewildering to you, then I don’t know what to tell you.