Isan IsanGlow In The Dark Safari Set
If you turn out the light and suddenly find yourself transported to a dream world, fantastic, with brilliant colours, then it generally means that Isan has recorded another good album. At this stage in their career, after thirteen years fighting to stay on deck and not disappear as victims of trends, the duo shouldn’t have anything asked of them other than that they make an effort, do their job well, and that the album that they end up delivering to us be faithful to their signs of identity: transparent, ingenuous, charming IDM. A total of four years have passed since “Plans Drawn In Pencil” (Morr Music, 2006) and “Glow in the Dark Safari Set” arrives unexpectedly, because Isan aren’t people to draw attention to themselves, making their way around the musical scene discretely, everything they record patiently rendered until they’re sure that it’s perfectly finished and in order. But although it arrives without warning, one must keep up the habit of listening to whatever comes from Isan. They are neither infallible, nor are they revolutionaries, but their music maintains the ability to transform space, to make the room that you are in seem warmer, allowing the memory to wander back to periods that you thought were forgotten, and in the best cases, it takes you back to the happy days of your childhood and that special summer. There is something unchanging in what Antony Ryan and Robin Saville do: they continue to be masters of the electronic song. Their pieces continue to be candid melodies that enter the ears with an admirable smoothness. This new album is no exception.
The interesting thing about “Glow in the Dark Safari Set”, in any case, would be how the passage of time can lead their songs—without them having changed—to be analysed under different lights. Just under a decade ago, when Isan changed from Tugboat to Morr Music, there were changes in the focus of electronic bedroom music: the melody was becoming more important than the complexity of the rhythmic construction, and the weight of the influence of pop was more noticeable than that of techno. This was when indie-pop was replacing its guitars with samplers, when labels like Carpark were starting to claim their own space. Isan weren’t exactly pop people with curiosity for early-morning electronic, but they did know how to give shape to a melody so that it would seem like it had been taken from a music box, so fragile that it seemed like it would break. But today there are reasons to consider Isan as precursors of the word that is so fashionable today: hypnagogic –that is to say, music that sounds like a fuzzy memory of the past, so fuzzy that the real and imaginary are confused. It is not a revival, but rather a present-time recreation of music that can’t be remembered exactly because it has never been listened to well. The use of old analogue equipment or the recreation of the textures of modular synthesisers by way of digital software has helped Isan to create a double identity: that of craftsmen of childlike electronic music and conservers of the features of German cosmic music and library music. It is interesting to see how where before we only heard some pleasant notes with a retro aroma and a few delicate glitches, now we can hear the recreation of a sonic world that is already lost.
Let’s take, for example, “Channel Ten”, the first song on the LP: it doesn’t seem inspired in the Kraftwerk of “Trans Europa Express”, but rather it goes beyond that, it is an undercover tribute, in which the colours have lost intensity and the melodic lines have blurred with the passing of time. One thing is sure, though: if we are going to call this hypnagogic, we might have to follow the concept back to Boards Of Canada and the early Broadcast –even further back– and include Isan on the short list of pioneers that can now be mentioned as originators and not followers of the trend. Because they are the same as always: there are electronic lullabies like “Device”,the same kind that Leila or Marumari knew how to make ten years ago, and there are even moments that hark back to primitive synthesiser albums like those of the Japanese Tomita – “The Axle” could be on “Snowflakes Are Dancing” (1974), or the first album by Suzanne Ciani, alias ‘Lady Buchla’. “64 Fire Damage” has something of that romantic, ingenuous “Seven Waves” (1982), and in general the entire album gives that feeling of listening to something rescued from an old record shop where it has been sitting around for thirty years, then given an in-depth mastering (to give it shine). “Glow in the Dark Safari Set”, as the title indicates, glows in the night and is an excursion to primitive, pure places, with “Greencracked” and “Slurs And Slowly”. It only breaks the symmetry of the space lounge of “Eastside”; it is definitely an imaginary trip to the country where dreams and solar systems are born.
* Listen and buy it here