Is is cover

Is / Is – III (Guilt Ridden Pop)

Is is coverWe’ve been watching Is /Is from afar for quite some time now.

There must be something in the water in Minneapolis, some sort of local equivalance of Brighton UK, given how much seems to come from the twin cities and its ability to continually pique our interest. It stands to reason that sort of thing will raise the bar all round.

Is /Is started out not so much a side project, more an experiment between Sarah Rose and Sarah Nienaber. They only ever expected to try it on for size and play a few basement shows for their mates. Even the name tells that story: when we spoke to Sarah Rose last year, she told us that originally it had just been a bit of a laugh to hear people tripping up over their words as they tried to say “..Is / Is is…” Of course it’s rendered them ungoogle-able, but hey, it’s a good name and the internet isn’t everything is it? What’s that? Oh… apparently it is.

That makes them sound like a duo which isn’t the case. The line-up is resolutely power trio, it’s just that the original drummer and founding member Mara Appel moved away over the course of the year it took this album come to fruition. As a result, there’s been a revolving drum stool of tub thumpers, until Annie May came on the scene. She’s now been firmly glued into position, so we’re hoping that there’ll be a bit of stability for a week or two at least.

It’s entirely possible that wrapping the first faltering steps of the band in a joke was a safety mechanism in case things didn’t work out. The opposite happened; something clicked in a big way. After a couple of singles, here we are with a debut long player that’s been impressing since we eagerly grabbed it off the postman and unwrapped it.

When they first started the band, in amongst assured musicality, the first thing that hit the listener was just how heavy the whole thing sounded. We’re talking 70’s Brit heavy here, a la Groundhogs. It was great, it snarked our attention, but was time-limited. Which makes it fulfilling to see that although they are still one drenched sounding rock band, it’s tempered now with enough balance to allow the subtlety of the playing to show out. It’s both heartwarming and frighteningly impressive to see just how far it’s possible for a band to mature in a short time. The girls reckon it was never meant to come out sounding rock-heavy, but they’ve still got the ‘saturate’ pedal to the metal. It’s nuanced though, as it drips over the reverb, harkening back to dusty amped psych rock that might have thrilled us years before. What excites us now is the beautiful feeling of loss in the vocal lines and and the abandon in the stoner playing.

Is is band2

The dynamic of the two Sarahs is an interesting one. As well as doing vocal duty, Rose is a bass player turned guitarist. In a mirror image move, Nienaber plays bass here, while in another life she’s the guitarist and voice of Gospel Gossip, another Minnesota band that are continually threatening to break out of cult status. This turnaround of roles and instruments brings the welcome tension of things of things on a bleeding edge, nothing safe and comfortable here.

There some seriously strong songwriting. Previous single ‘Hate Smile’ is just as good as when we first heard it, comforting wall of sound playing out into lazy acoustics strum. Star of the show though, and at risk of eclipsing the rest, is ‘Sun Tsunami’. This was another prior single, but in this case has been totally re-recorded and re-mastered. The ambling, almost stumbling stroll-in has been coated in glitter and coruscation, before the main line comes charging along like some smoking dynamite fuse. Over all of this, Sarah Rose repeatedly intones that she is going away and she’ll “be good”. I’m sure she will. Eventually the melody decays gorgeously to leave nothing but the shimmer remaining.

Final track ‘Save Your Savior’ is a behemoth. It clocks in at nearly nine minutes – what was I saying about 70’s rock sensibilities? The extended jam as it spins down really could have been indulgent self pleasuring, but like the rest of the record, manages to pull it off without running out of interest.

[Rating:4]

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.