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Spontaneous Combustion

by Andy Davis, images by Eckardt Kasselman / 13.05.2010

Isochronous launched their new acoustic album Imago at Zula last week and it’s really hard to find the words to match just how astonishing they are. Truth is that this band is too good for the South African live music circuit. So suck ’em in while you can, because these guys have greatness scrawled all over them.

Who knows what they’re putting in the water in Pretoria, but it seems strange that the city so synonymous with the kind of brute masculinity associated with Blue Bulls rugby, should produce such a wealth of self-assured musicians (Isochronous, Wrestlerish, Yesterday’s Pupil et al) who create such complex, delicate and sensitive pop music.

I walked into the muggy, smoky embrace of a crowded Zula during the last song of the opening band, Holiday Murray and was pretty immediately impressed by the music they were laying down. There was a complex building of vocal harmonies over a nice acoustic backbone that made me want to check out more of their stuff. Holiday Murray were followed by Heldervue, also playing an acoustic set. Heldervue’s lead singer was really passionate, the drummer a bit stiff and their performance, although competent, lacked some oomf. All the same, the opening acts were really just that, a red carpet for Isochronous, who had come down from Pretoria with the additional support of a Cello, Viola and vocalist. It was a formal set up, with all the players taking seats on the stage like an impromptu orchestra. And once they launch, it didn’t take long for jaws to drop.

Isochronous, live up to their name. They occur at the same time, simultaneously, sweeping you away on a tide of beautifully arranged pop complexity. They mash you up in the sweetest way. They were all dressed up theatrically, like a troupe of Shakespearean players, reminiscent of The Beatles circa Sgt Peppers, and their acoustic offering was a far cry from their harder and more direct electronic set. But damn me, I’ve struggled to give the CD a break from the heavy rotation it’s been doing in my car for the last week. They’re just that captivating. Imago is without doubt one of the best original South African music releases of 2010. No doubt. And Isochronous is a band that is tipped for greatness beyond the glass ceiling of the South African music scene.

Unlike many pop acts, you actually have to engage with Isochronous. Their music is not a stripped down soundbite engineered to deliver a catchy hook that you get immediately and tire of just as quickly. Nuh-uh, maybe it’s because they have an academically trained jazz background, but Isochronous make you work a bit harder. You actually have to listen. Which is probably why it has taken me so long to wake up to their genius.

I first heard them at Oppikoppi back in 2008. Mungo Adonis, someone’s whose musical taste I respect greatly, came back to the camp to refill his hipflask jibbering madly about a band he had just scene that were about to become the biggest thing ever. I had watched snatches of their set from the back before drifting off towards other stages and bars. I then managed to avoid them for two years, catching fleeting moments of their gigs, being impressed with a melodic twist in half a song and then stumbling off again. But unlike many of the pop acts on the South African live music circuit, Isochronous really needs to be engaged to be enjoyed. You actually need to give them your full attention, their output will challenge then reward you. It’s an intricate blend of arrangement, vocal melody and fantastic musicianship. These guys know their instruments really well, and although they’re young, they’re technically proficient, but beyond that, it’s the elaborateness and the expansive vision of the composition and song writing that catches you. It’s something so unique that conjuring other band names can only murk the water, but here goes. Imagine a touch of the Beatles, some Kings of Convenience, a sprinkling of Mr Bungle and a whole bunch of stuff you’ve never heard before. It’s like the sweetest sucker punch to the gut.

And so I found myself on a Wednesday evening jammed in amongst the sweaty, arty student crowd, all of us, mouths agape, literally astounded by what we were watching. At the end of the set, the Isochronous boys are so into it, they jump up, pick up their electric instruments and jam into a four song medley of their electric stuff, that literally blew the roof off. Releasing all the beautiful tension they had created with the down tempo acoustic stuff, in a ball of combustible energy. There’s a moment towards the end where drummer Marko Benini is smiling like a big, hairy, infectious cheshire cat, while Richard, Franco and Alex swarm around his beats adding their instruments like ingredients in a maelstrom of sound, and everyone, from the stage to the crowd, is just so damn happy to be in that moment at the same time. Magic.

I’ll say it again. If you haven’t yet seen this band already, do yourself a favour. And don’t stand at the back, drink a beer and have a conversation. Give them your attention. They won’t let you down.

Check out Isochronous on Facebook here.

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