ism – Urgency
STM Records (8/5/08)
Rock / Alternative / Electronic
I knew it would happen eventually. Around 2001, when the garage-rock renaissance came roaring in as a reaction to the hyper-technologized sounds of nu-metal, rock fans were in a tizzy over the idea that rock was getting back to basics; ditching all the techno and hip-hop affectations and bashing out a few chords in a garage, like it used to be. In the last few years, we’ve seen that it was really just the impotent meathead aggression that needed to recede. Bands like The Killers and The Bravery have brought back the melodic qualities of great songwriting that got lost when everyone decided to let their computers do the thinking; but they augmented it with an intelligent and carefully meted-out use of technology.
Now, ism has come along and brought the whole thing full circle. Urgency has all the hallmarks of indie-rock simplicity but it is fully integrated with electronica, and it avoids being gimmicky or feeling welded on. Looking at the apocalyptic black-helicopter album cover (which, incidentally, is my early vote for favorite album cover of the year) and seeing the punctuated band name, I was ready to hear a slice of Reznor-derivative tech-rock. What I didn’t expect was to hear some genuine melody, which Urgency has by the pantload.
ism member Leigh Battle is attributed in the liner notes to bass, vocals, and “weird sounds”. Which weird sounds can be credited to Battle and which to frontman and songwriter Andre Mistier is anyone’s guess, but the weird sounds that are coming out of Battle’s bass are some of the most interesting on the record. “Sacred Cows” is an epic scale windblown number that is softly augmented by a wavering, resonant bass line. “The Only One” is built mostly around a Bootsy Collins-style space-bass riff that will have you shaking your hips while you stare at your shoes. “Animadversion” has a chopped breakbeat that leads to an arena-size chorus swell—it reads a bit like the Chemical Brothers remixing U2.
The mid-album “Interlude” and “Postlude” are psychedelic-tinged instrumentals with an ominous, foreboding sense. Urgency, in general, has the political undertone of a world gone mad—almost a Philip K. Dick novel set to music. Not all of ism’s talent lies in their hard drives; “Fly”, and the album closer “Resistance Lullaby” are mostly lo-fi affairs, with some simple echo effects used for atmosphere but with the focus on arpeggiated guitars and hushed, melancholy vocals from Mistier.
Urgency would not be out of place in the record collections of both hipsters and ratchetheads. At times, it recalls ’90s also-rans Stabbing Westward, but with more attention paid to crafting delicate melodies and less palm-muted guitar. With some proper chemical augmentation, this record could make you dance all night, or curl up in the corner and ponder its significance all night. It’s a testament to the musicianship of ism that you move seamlessly from one to the other.