Friday, 12 July 2013

17 Pygmies - Isabel

Album review by

I wonder if when they began, 17 Pygmies thought they'd still be going seventeen years later, let alone thirty? There has been a lengthy hiatus in that time, and also a few line-up changes, with the sole original being founder member Jackson Del Ray. They're marking this milestone with the release of a new album, 'Isabel', and although our knowledge of the band doesn't stretch back three decades, we do have last album 'Even Celestina Gets The Blues' to compare it to, and it would be fair to say that there's been no wild deviation in sound since then. Unless our promo copy is telling fibs, there are ten tracks on this album, all called 'Isabel', and numbering from 'Isabel I' to 'Isabel XI'. Those who know their Roman numerals will have spotted that's number one to number eleven, for some reason they've chosen not to include track ten (if it exists) on the album.

It should be pointed out that 'Isabel' is the first part of a trilogy following the fictional character Dr. Amelia Isabel, who is a passenger on the spaceship 'Celestina' which gave its name to the character of the previous trilogy. I hope you're keeping up at the back. So this is essentially another cosmic, interstellar concept album. Being a largely ambient group that touches upon psychedelia, the opening two songs are instrumentals made from steady, slow, plucked guitar and strings creating a mood. It's kind of post-rock, only minus the rock part. The two fit together almost as one song, although 'Isabel II' does begin to sound more threatening as it reaches the end. The album really comes alive on '...III', the first song to incorporate vocals and the first to sound truly celestial; suddenly we're in this sci-fi land and it's quite breathtaking.

The journey continues with 'IV' which is part Elizabethan folk music and part cosmic symphony; it's a curious combination but it works well. There are points where the ride becomes daunting and perhaps a little perilous, as you'd maybe expect from such a fictitious venture, and 'V' with its moody strings and electronic pulses captures this well. Vocals return for the slightly forlorn, twinkly dreampop of 'VI' and this is another highlight. More soundscapes follow, with 'VII' being particularly good and 'VIII' being little more than an ambient piece that could have come from a soundtrack; by it's very nature this album has a cinematic feel. The final songs to include lyrics are the ominous sounding 'IX' which again has something of a medieval feel to it, despite being a space-age fantasy, and it also uses retro sounding electronics heavily towards the end; and lastly 'XI' in which the vocal tone makes it difficult to grasp the emotion of the track, although this seems to be the point. Things need to be left hanging slightly in the balance as there will be more to follow. It might be a lengthy project, but it's not without its moments.

17 Pygmies' website

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