Isobella’s music is one of those enveloping, amorphous forces that fills your world while sweeping you along on a journey. The Tampa, Florida-based trio takes unassuming pop songs and swirls them into big sonic atmospheres by adding layers of guitar, synthesizer, beats and other programming. On one level their music is all about textures, about the way instruments sound when placed over, next to and in between each other, about carefully crafting beauty in steps. But on another level everything is propelled along by rhythms and beats, giving the music a groove often missing from ambient soundscapes. And on an entirely different level, there’s simple, pretty pop songs underneath, sung by vocalist/keyboardist Laura Poinsette. Essentially, then, there’s a lot going on.
Once upon a time Isobella was known as Akasha; they changed their name before their debut album was released, but then used the old name as the album title. Akasha was a pretty album which served as a first step towards where they are now. The songwriting hasn’t drastically changed, nor have the instruments, yet with their second album A 24 Syllable Haiku Isobella has given their sound the fullness, the cinematic scope, that they were leaning toward on their debut. Their second album is also significantly longer, making it feel like a deeper, more complete being in many respects, like an ocean compared to a swimming pool.
Much of Isobella’s craft is about creating a mood which will pull the listener inside the song. It isn’t a huge surprise that the names people bring up as comparisons include Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, and My Bloody Valentine. Isobella shares with these bands (and many more) a tendency to place a cloak of sound over pop songs, to send listeners off into a dreamlike state while delivering fantastic pop melodies. In fact, this transformation of the listener’s mood forms a big part of the content of Isobella’s music. The vocals are used more as an instrument to help achieve this goal than as a means of communication. Though the vocals are mixed higher here than on Akasha—here it’s possible to make some out if you really listen—they’re still quite low. That doesn’t mean the vocals don’t play a major role in the sound. Poinsette has a beautiful voice that soars along with the tracks in a brilliant way, yet it communicates feelings more than messages. Getting listeners to feel something is of course what most pop music is about. Musicians just have many ways to go about it. Isobella take the route less traveled: using music to evoke instead of tell. The “message” you get from their songs might depend on you as much as them, on how these particular sounds affect you when you hear them. In a way that gives their music a more profound sense of what musicians can accomplish than you’ll get from much of what you’ll hear these days. A 24 Syllable Haiku is an open work of mystery and beauty. It’s music for real life, which is never easily explained and doesn’t come in a clearly labeled box.