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Isis - Oceanic Remixes & Interpretations

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Artist: Isis

Album: Oceanic Remixes & Interpretations

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: May. 30, 2005

In the fall of 2002, Isis – the Boston-born, L.A.-based quintet – released their second full-length and first masterpiece, Oceanic, a post-Neurosis dirge influenced as much by Mogwai as by death and grind. That album’s middle two tracks represented the band’s growing interest in electronics and textures, something they extended on their most recent album Panopticon.

In between those records, Robotic Empire released limited-edition LPs featuring remixes of Oceanic material by a wide range of top-shelf electronicians. These pieces – which are nothing like covers, more like smotherings – are consistent with Isis’ own explorations. Though they are quite distinct from one another, one thing the performances on this two-disc re-release of the RE records have in common is their omission of one of Isis’ most prominent features: the sheer physicality of their sound. Eight of the original nine tracks are represented here, with four of them given two treatments apiece (the only one absent is, significantly, the electronics track “ – “ which marks the midpoint of the original album).

The set opens with Christian Fennesz rapturous re-reading of “Weight,” the long, trance-like track that ushers in the original record’s second half. But its hypnotic pulse is evacuated in order to set up swirling layers of tonality, shimmering like moonlit waves. It’s certainly one of the highlights of this collection. The pounding “False Light” is given two readings, the first of which (“the Carry Edit”) comes courtesy of 27’s Ayal Naor, whose guest vocals are an essential part of the original “Weight,” and which blend with gull-like cries here to great effect. One of the interesting moves she makes is giving the tune a harmonic counterline (or maybe just raising it up from inaudibility), a couple steps below the original ostinati, that renders it quite different. The Oktopus from Dälek has the next crack at this tune, and buries it with the kind of industrial strata one has come to expect (only Aaron Turner’s barking vocal track remains relatively impervious to sonic damage).

Picking up where Fennesz left off, Dutch electronician Thomas Köner breaks down the anthemic closer “Hym.” It opens smothered in crackling low-end data drift, and gets denser from there - only occasionally do the tune’s recognizable rising chords float up from the expanse. In a similar vein, we find Teledubgnosis’ very ethereal rendering of “Maritime” (Mike Patton’s interpretation retains the original electronica pulse and basic form of the song, garlanding it with a banjo track and multi-tracked Patton vocals). James Plotkin’s reading of “The Other” is considerably less dark, which is interesting given his principle involvement in Khanate and Atomsmasher. He essentially places Turner’s vocals unencumbered next to organ playing and floating electronic tones. Hecker’s first of two takes on “Carry” reduces the song to a vast, echo-drenched guitar chord that bounces around what sounds like a cavern formed from various delay devices - a very nice piece. His second isn’t so distinct in its methodology, just a bit denser. DJ Speedranch takes a completely different approach to “Carry,” stripping it down for the most part to backup vocals and secondary effects (and, for what it’s worth, he also subtitles the piece “Like I Will Love Her Forever? (Fuckin Die!!!)”). One of the most radically altered tracks is Venetian Snares’ take on “The Beginning and the End,” where a single guitar sample is used as a device to mutate things completely. Oceanic’s best track is “From Sinking,” and in the hands of Destructo Swarmbots it is almost unrecognizable, as if buried on the ocean’s floor. And finally, Justin Broadrick (of Godflesh and Jesu) himself takes on “Hym.” Not only is Broadrick excellent at these kinds of revisionism, he also is quite familiar with this kind of music (having remixed Isis previously and having recently done a brilliant take on Pelican’s “Angel Tears”).

For the most part, the excellent source materials have been thoroughly transformed – far beyond what usually passes for a remix – and have generally been rendered more mellow and atmospheric. Each of the interpreters is top-notch and has thoughtfully approached the process. Isis freaks will surely want to have this, but most of the pieces stand up quite well on their own.

By Jason Bivins

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