Islet - Eyelet (Fire Records)

Islet – Eyelet (Fire Records)

‘Never again never again (keep believing)/O but I try o but I try so hard not to give up’ exclaims Emma Daman Thomas on glorious bubbling lead single ‘Clouds‘, it’s a heart bursting refrain that could be used as a rallying cry by Greta Thunberg as she seeks to warn of the creeping destruction of the planet with a brave and hopeful heart. It’s symbolic of Powys trio Islet‘s superlative third record Eyelet an album that’s coursing with perpetual motion and meditative depth of the undercurrents of water that flow through the Welsh hills of their home, elemental, hypnotic and spiritual, the cycle of life from birth to death.

Infused with the work of three distinctive imaginations, Eyelet was recorded at home tucked away in the hills of rural Mid Wales. It took form in the months following the birth of band members Emma and Mark Daman Thomas’ second child and the death of fellow band member Alex Williams’ mother. Alex came to live with Emma and Mark, and the band enlisted Rob Jones (Pictish Trail, Charles Watson) to produce.

Islet have often ventured forth into the frontiers of sound on record or on stage since they were hailed as the pioneers of nowave in 2009. Yet the suspicion remained that they hadn’t quite distilled that energy – that body moving, heart-swelling, boundless imagination and unexpected experimentation of their live shows – down into a record, that is until now.

Eschewing the art noise of their debut album Illuminated People, instead it depicts their growth as a unit building upon the psyche textures of 2016’s Liquid Half Moon EP and experimentation of Mark’s solo project Farm Hand. It pushes further than they have before, its crisp electronic sweeps, its bubbling percussive beats, its evocative vocals, with hints of the work of Arthur Russell, Brian Eno, Kate Bush, Jenny Hval and Animal Collective reaching the place where pop music meets experimentation and is patched together again. Eyelet embraces  avant-pop with a vivid clarity as glistening as a diamond on the bed of the ocean.

Opening with insistent guitar plucks of ‘Caterpillar’ a deliciously lilting nursery rhyme described by Emma as “a song for my unborn child” its tender and subtle wash is a gentle beginning, unlike previous Islet long players, Emma’s presence is to the forefront throughout the record, her voice possessing a warmth and humanity.

It’s followed by the big-hearted Good Grief‘s memorable wobbly synth hook and frosty loops, which are pierced by Emma’s refrains. “Feel my devotion don’t tell me it’s over now” she sings with an elastic voice that wraps around you like the arms of a warm embrace, punctuated by plunges of reverberating percussion, that lend it a memorable backbone. Its evocative framework embodies the strength of generations of women in a song that has hints of Bjork‘s ‘Homogenic‘. It’s followed by the ambient, gently lapping waves of ‘Treasure’ with its glacial keyboard dashes, pairing Mark’s earnest proclamation of life changing growth and love, against Emma’s celestial callings. Beguiling.

The wonderful ‘Geese‘ is a centrepiece that’s hypnotic over its near seven minutes. A glorious mini symphony riven with intricate details, throbbing beat, supple bass lines that bat like the wings of the titular bird and nagging comedown keyboard motifs interspersed with the freedom of Emma’s skyward refrains “fly fly fly” she beckons skyward a call to the landscape and the wild, and to past generations who once stood where we stand now. It was inspired by Welsh cultural theorist Raymond Williams’ novel People Of The Black Mountains.

Layered vocals, live drums and swirls gather like rushing clouds towards a heady four to the floor crescendo, carving a vast space in the time-space continuum in the way the work of William Orbit or The Orb can. It’s Islet forging a new path on their story and it sounds quite like nothing else. intriguing and bewitching.

 ‘Radel 10’ is named after the tabla drum machine that powers it, the restless snares snaps are punctured by entwined layers of Emma. “Go back where? No’ she emotes amidst her entwined layers, and restless backdrops, this thrilling moment of clarity she swoops with a defiance at the rise of the far right,  inspired in part by The Good Immigrant, the landmark anthology of essays on race and immigration by BAME writers.

Last year’s first single ‘Clouds‘ blips delightfully with wisps of melody akin to Madonna‘s Ray of Light era, oscillating upon glistening synths and pitter patter of processed beats. Emma’s enveloping vocals are at once comforting and in the moment, meditating on the sky’s constant flight and its glorious vastness.

Florist’ stumbles along with art-rock dexterity, Mark’s off-kilter Barrett-isms and the devious keys sound like harpsichords crunching underfoot, before Emma cleanses the listener with another sweet affirmation. The haunting ‘Moon‘ with its muted circadian rhythms, focuses its gaze upon the milky light on a pitch-black night, embers of the past hoving into view upon the glacial swathes and rustle of a mysterious midnight happening.

Closing with the more off the wall soundscapes of ‘No House‘ and the creeping loops and insidious visitations of ‘Gyratory Circus ‘ its undulating contours ripple with a percussive playfulness, a theremin that menacingly flickers, and Emma’s ghostly parting melodies.

It is forged with a vital creative spirit, with a depth that escapes most pop records, and woven with worthy messages on climate change, immigration, history and feminism. Yet possessed of a vision as vast as the vistas they peer toward, Eyelet is their best record yet, transformative and immersive; it takes us with it on its voyage of discovery and it sounds utterly wondrous.

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.