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ISAN | Clockwork Menagerie (Morr Music)
ISAN were at the forefront of the small-label electronica renaissance of the mid-to-late '90s, when tiny indies such as the legendary Wurlitzer Jukebox put out innovative 7" singles by the likes of Broadcast, Plone and Flowchart etc. Heady days. This collection pulls together some of ISAN's early gems - Damil 85, their inaugural release on WJ, still induces spinal jelly with its array of cold, analogue bleeps and scratches seeping through sequenced synth bass riffs, like an injection of electronic saline streaming through your bloodstream. Incidentally, Cubillo, the flip side, is the sort of stellar instrumental the early Human League might have made had Marsh and Ware had hung around longer. Using bits of dusty equipment and a sampler, Robin Saville & Antony Ryan make austere forays into gaunt, highly sophisticated vintage electronica, taking scant ideas and replicating them into an opulent, cheaply-assembled synthetic orchestra. Junk shop synths continue to be in vogue, but you'll find ISAN's sounds much less sonically terrifying than the likes of Add (N) To X. And the reference points are much less obscure. Think Aphex Twin, Plone, Autechre, Seefeel. Or Boards Of Canada without a budget. This is regressive womb music to be enveloped by, although a little disturbing in places â?? remember those obscure schools programmes or the bizarrely morose public information films of the late 70s? ISAN clearly do. They chew the fat (albeit laced with silicon chips), but they do it economically. And with rationale. Complex rhythms unfurl into simple arpeggios - deliciously sugary embers of sound that dissipate like candy floss on a warm tongue. Drop in the odd vocal cut-up and you get strangely alluring atmospheres that alternate between darkness and light. ISAN don't like playing live. Listening to this, you might even assume they've been hibernating in a dank shed since the early '80s, with nothing more than an old mono Korg and a couple of OMD singles to busy themselves with. Who cares when they produce post-geek stuff like this? Play it when you have sex. Reap its subliminal benefit when you're asleep. This is unreal. This is real. Time stops when you put it on.
Velimir Pavle Ilic
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002