Music

Gregory Alan Isakov's 'Evening Machines' Is a Moody, Intoxicating Masterpiece

Photo: Rebecca Caridad / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Colorado singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov releases his fourth full-length album, Evening Machines, and it's a slow-burning beauty.

Evening Machines
Gregory Alan Isakov

Dualtone

5 October 2018

"I'd work really hard into the night," says Gregory Alan Isakov, in the press release for his new album." A lot of times I would find myself in the light of all these VU meters and the tape machine glow, so that's where the title came from." Evening Machines, indeed. It's easy to parse out the literal meaning behind such a title, but it's impossible to deny that the title also seems to convey the overall mood behind the finished product. This is an album that could have only been made at night. It's dark, brooding, and full of echoes and mystery.

Isakov's fourth full-length album and his first in five years, Evening Machines was recorded at his converted barn studio in Boulder County, Colorado. It's on this property where he also operates a three-acre farm, selling vegetable seeds and growing various market crops. That's right, Gregory Alan Isakov is not only a singer-songwriter, he's also a full-time farmer. Lots of artists steeped in folk or Americana talk the talk – Isakov walks the walk.

Not that you need to grow corn to write a good song. But the rural atmosphere Isakov immerses himself in seems to work wonders in creating an organic, no-bullshit, anti-rock star album. "I'm a ghost of you / You're a ghost of me / A birds-eye view of San Luis," he sings in the quiet, deliberately paced "San Luis".

Isakov played a lot of the album's instruments himself, but a good deal of musicians accompany him here and there, adding layers of analog keyboards, rustic strings, and ethereal harmony vocals. Nick Forster's pedal steel on "Was I Just Another One" meshes beautifully with the dramatic string and choral arrangements, creating a near-cinematic experience. On "Caves", a heavy, full-band sound is accented by cavernous, reverb-drenched sound design, with the mysterious lyrics and its elusive characters adding to the Southern Gothic aura. "I used to love caves," Isakov sings. "Stumble out into that pink sky / Remember that bright hollow moon / It showed our insides on our outsides."

While Evening Machines maintains a timeless, open feel – the sound of a future classic – timely subject matter creeps in from time to time. The opening track, "Berth" – co-written by Isakov's brother Ilan, and whittled down from its original 12-minute runtime to a more modest five – addresses the issue of immigration. Over a lush, languid waltz, Isakov -- a native of South Africa who emigrated with his family to the U.S. as a young child – sings of arriving at his new home in poetic, measured tones: "New York lady, holding in her heavy hand / Sacred lantern, guiding dawn / Quit all that looking back / I quit all of that."

One of the album's more musically sparse songs is "Chemicals", guided primarily by the ever-present acoustic guitar as other instruments fall soberly in place. Despite some occasional intoxicating falsetto and other unique touches, "Chemicals" sounds like Isakov's bid to make a somewhat standard, traditional indie folk song. But he seems too good for that kind of generic style and eventually rises above it. "Dark Dark Dark" follows along those same lines, albeit in a more percussive, singalong style.

Listening to Evening Machines -- easily one of the best albums I've heard so far this year -- you get the impression that Isakov is Josh Ritter's eccentric cousin, and their styles are comparable (Isakov has toured with Ritter in the past). They certainly share a lot of the same qualities, both in their musical and lyrical styles. Underneath the rich, unique production technique is a master songwriter. On the epic, closing ballad, "Wings in All Black", Isakov sings: "She turns to water, she goes slipping through the cracks / And all that you gave her, you'll never win back / You circled the sun, you wore your wings in all black." That's positively Dylanesque. Not bad for a Colorado farmer.

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.