It’s been over two years since I was amazed by Isgaard’s “Naked”, an album that was just as progressive and just as good as most any other album that year. I fell in love with the vocal experiments and the Gilmour-style guitars that soaked that album with uniqueness and beauty. Now, Isgaard is getting ready to release her next album “Whiteout”, releasing on November 18, and I am equally amazed as I was last time.
Isgaard is apparently the artist’s name, or pen name. I have no idea. She just goes by Isgaard. She provides vocals for her albums, and the backing musicians include Jens Lueck on drums and keys, Ingo Salzmann on electric guitars, Katja Flintsch on violin and viola, Annika Stolze on violoncello, Dieter Koch on acoustic guitars, Volker Kuinke on recorders, and Joachim Schlüter on slide guitar. Now, that’s a pretty eclectic range of instruments, and this album is absolutely immersed in an artsy, classy style utilizing all of these instruments in a lush, engaging manner.
“Whiteout” features the signature Isgaard style: softer, pop melodies accentuated with riveting guitar work, a wide variety of novel instruments, world music, and, of course, Isgaard’s vocals. The first part of that is something I consider progressive pop, a subgenre that I feel should be recognized by the prog community. It would feature bands like Tears for Fears and Frost*. Isgaard easily falls into the category, as she pushes the limits of composition and performance; not settling for just a pop album.
Her vocals are a clear indication of this. Isgaard’s voice has a certain grit to it that is instantly recognizable to me. She is a very emotional singer, but her greatest strength is her willingness to experiment with vocal inflections that range from world music to her own psychedelic concoctions, similar to artists like Kate Bush. This album continues to impress in this area with amazing vocal performances on tracks like “Tikdabra (Dried-Out Land”), “Silva”, and the three part “Whiteout” suite. Spine-tingling, goosebump-inducing vocals are definitely the meat and potatoes of this album.
This album does feature something more than “Naked”. While the Euro pop, folk, and world music foundation is intact, this album features some incredible sweeping, orchestral movements, especially in the last half of the album. “Whiteout” simply feels more emotional and a little less psychedelic than her previous album, but that swap is perfectly fine by me. The music is beautiful and the emotions climax spectacularly.
The album sounds pleasant enough to start, but really gets going at “Tikdabra (Dried-Out Land)”, a song that evokes feelings of parched deserts and wide open spaces. It’s also the song at which Isgaard’s real vocal power begins to present itself, with vocal inflections with a Middle Eastern flavor bursting through the dry air and awe-inspiring emotion on display. This song makes my arm hairs stand on end. It’s one of the songs that makes you want to sit in silence a bit afterwards, just to absorb what you heard. “Silva” also stands out with a cool treading rhythm and a super catchy chorus.
“Whiteout” reaches its zenith, however, with the three-part title song. This song is easily one of the best songs I’ve heard in 2016. It starts with a slow burning build, transitions into emotional guitar solos and vocal inflections, and explodes in the third part with a truly magnificent orchestral movement. This might be the best song I’ve heard from Isgaard, though it does remind me somewhat of one of my other favorite songs from her, “Overflow” from her previous album “Naked”. “Whiteout I-III” is worth the price of admission alone. Other favorite tracks include “No Man’s Land”, “Shine On”, and “Silent Stranger”.
“Whiteout” ends with a reprise of “Shine On”. It’s like the cool down after the workout. It gives us a few minutes to absorb the musical experience we just heard. This is the style of the whole album: a massive trainload of melody and emotion that will rush over you, sometimes leaving you feeling dried out and sparse, and other times leaving you renewed and overjoyed. It’s a true work of art through and through. Isgaard deserves your attention.