ALBUM REVIEW/PREMIERE: Lisathe – Lisathe

Covering music for the blog provides both an avenue for curation as well as a means of tracking stylistic movements in various scenes. We’ve used our platform to chronicle the evolution of dissonant death metal, the new wave of traditional heavy metal, progressive stoner/sludge/doom, and a myriad of other subgenres that have popped up over the years. A new focus of our coverage has been the uprising of “rock” bands basing their sound in the style while simultaneously eschewing traditional genre norms.

At the moment, I’m most invested in a trend of “post-” post-rock, a movement seemingly led primarily by phenomenal Australian label Art As Catharsis. Their roster is stacked with some of the most exciting bands toying with the core tenets of post-rock, incorporating elements of math rock, jazz, modern classical, prog and more to create a fresh, unique sound. This broad classification includes a slew of fantastic releases from Ground Patrol, The Physics House Band, SEIMS and Town Portal, along with upcoming gems from Alarmist, The Biology of Plants (review incoming) and, the band of the hour, Lisathe.

The trio’s new self-titled album—streaming in full below ahead of its May 24 release date—is one of the most unique contemporary releases at the intersection of these styles. For starters, the album contains reinterpretations of songs written by prominent Icelandic composers, including heavy hitters like Björk and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. This already unique concept is made all the more interesting by Lisathe’s approach to songwriting. The trio channels a traditional “rock” lineup (bass, drums, guitar) through an array of lenses, ranging from jazzy and bluesy guitar licks à la Bill Frisell and Loren Connors to ambient, quasi-folk passages to lush, cinematic soundscapes. This synthesis is both intriguing and accessible, defined by a balance of modern and classic styles for a timeless, sonically rich result.

The natural place to start is “Pagan Poetry,” both because it’s the opener and arguably the album’s strongest track. Before listening to Lisathe’s rendition, I can’t say I (or likely anyone else) had pondered the possibility of a modern jazzy math-rock cover of a track from Björk’s Vespertine. Yet, here we are, and it’s vastly more successful than I could have predicted. Guitarist Oliver Thorpe plays with a type of lyrical, jazzy phrasing that perfectly channels Björk’s unique voice. His exploratory playing is bolstered by pulsating bass notes and sparse percussion, adeptly performed by bassist Brendan Clark and drummer Miles Thomas. All this builds toward an explosion post-rock crescendo, with an emphasis on the physicality of the more direct side of the genre. It’s a multifaceted track that perfectly establishes the album’s fundamental focus.

Lisathe proceed from this lofty peak with a different flex of their musical chops, with the first of a three-part “Melodia” suite originally composed by Jóhannsson. Each interlude offers a subdued passage crafted through each member playing with a mind for ambiance and overall moodiness.

Elsewhere, the jazzy stylings take on prominence, with an underlying air of third stream in line with works by Keith Jarrett and similar composers. “Dreaming” is an absolutely gorgeous, country-tinged guitar ballad, which would serve as a perfect backdrop for a crooner like Jeff Buckley or Rachael Price. Later on, “Fragments” has a bit of a heightened classical air, with Thorpe playing his guitar as though he was plucking a violin or harp. He takes a similar approach on album closer “White Sun,” which boasts distinctly elegant themes in the way the trio waltzes with one another through each note and passage.

Clark and Thomas have their own moments in the spotlight as well. “The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black,” another Jóhannsson piece, sees Thorpe take a supporting role as Thomas lays out an extended percussive display in line with a free improv track from Eli Keszler. Directly after on “London Út,” Clark weaves bass melodies around Thorpe’s sliding, whining guitar licks, making for one of the most textured pieces on the album.

With a distinct, dynamic sound and ambitious concept, Lisathe paved a potentially challenging path for themselves on their self-titled debut. However, the band have defied all potential barriers enroute to crafting a mesmerizing collection of tracks with a unique sonic voice. This is the kind of album that shows a band not only up to the task of challenging themselves, but willing to continue setting the bar higher to push their innovation further. Fans of forward-thinking modern classical, jazz or rock should take notice of the trio’s efforts; debuts like this are a rare occurrence, and almost always serve as the impetus for a long, fruitful career.

Lisathe is available May 24 via Art As Catharsis.

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