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Tripping’s never been this trippy – “Islet” by mini-super group Peptalk

Home Assembly Music

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It is best, one finds, to not entirely rely on the list of descriptors found in a press release to gauge whether or not a record’s going to tweak those nerve-endings of pleasure and enchantment in the way one needs them repeatedly tweaked being the music junkies we are. A “mutual appreciation for mid-century exotica artists like Esquivel, Robert Drasnin, and Martin Denny,” along with “(D)rawing on their love of…J-pop” are not the sorts of phrases that would tend to trigger top-drawer interest from me. Having lived (‘endured’ the better word) through the escapist whimsy of that whole ‘lounge revival’ in the early 90’s, a colossal waste of an entire youth culture’s energy – I kept wanting to shout “Kids, you know you’re only young once, right?” – perhaps I’m a wee bit over-sensitive to anything that invokes those over-worn space-age bachelor pad tropes. Fact is, though, those references, as well the mention of Blade Runner and Twin Peaks-influenced flavorings, dub, and even the “surreal tropical vibe of Fantasy Island” (umm…okay) are all right and accurate, such elements abound. It’s just they don’t do full justice to the wonderful, and wonderfully bizarre, product at hand, a product that, regardless of the publicist’s worthy words’ effect on me, might’ve been expected given those responsible – percussionist Shayna Dunkelman from Xiu Xiu, Tyondai Braxton’s electonics wizard Michael Carter and birdsongstress Angelica Negron from Balún – but I still was not prepared to be quite as blown away by this record as I am.

peptalk band

[photo: Kevin Adams]

Endowed with a quiet profligacy of sound, Islet paraglides into your consciousness from the misty outset, the aptly-named “Panorama” invoking a spritzy bucolic sweep of idyllic imagery, striking at once as both pastorally lush and manicured, its remit a sunny tropicalia meeting a chamber orchestra for pastel-hued cocktails out on the veranda and yes, pretty much all of this record manifests as that sort of louche Manet-esque impressionism. It’s just that it’s not all glittering riverbank sunshine and pallid pink overtones, nor are the arrangements all smooth rides into a welcoming sunset. “Bow Chaser,” with its avant-pips of brass, the cut ‘n’ paste electronica and a recorder sounding desperately lost in a storm, leaves one breathlessly out-of-sorts and as such is one of the most giddily challenging pieces of pop music I’ve heard this year. Like most tracks here it left me dazzled, energized, wanting more.

“Nilbog” sports vocals like a carnival Cocteau Twins locked and drifting inside a surrealist dream filmed by the actual Cocteau, while, speaking of filmic, the title track immediately following tries to hide its undertow of low-key menace beneath the gentle plipping of vibes and the breeze of a violin among other effects – Negron’s lyric-less vocal floating over the trees, for one – but something in the lurking sustain of bass and how that violin starts feeling a little nervous toward the end speaks of deeper, noirish layers. In some places – the disorienting jauntiness of “Salties'” sawing cello, “Podesta”‘s travels in a less-fraught Nihilon – the band seem intent on creating a kind of cinematic cabaret darkwave, where Soft Cell might have gone had they been catapulted into the early aughts post-rock scene and thought ‘Now what?’ In others, especially in the shrouded cathedral scapes of “Driftwood” and, to a lesser extent, the experimental video game-hijacks-John Barry out-there-ness of “Endall,” they tiptoe across the border into Björkian daydreams and we all know how intriguingly skewed those can be.

All of which are simply one absorbed man’s interpretations but that’s the utterly bewitching beauty of this thing. Though your results may – nay, will – vary, the listener is in any case guaranteed a mindful, adventurous trip to some quietly psychedelic, heretofore unknown destination. Exotica, to these ears, has never sounded this intricately exotic, nor has tripping ever been this kind of trippy.

Here, drift away with “Driftwood:”