Isan: Plans Drawn In Pencil
Morr Music

In a style not radically different from its past releases, Isan sprinkles fairy dust over Plans Drawn in Pencil, making for a mood as becalmed and a sound as ultra-detailed as one would expect. In keeping with the album title, Antony Ryan and Robin Saville's sound exudes a light touch, not to mention a retiring character and sonic quality sometimes reminiscent of Eno (the elegiac synth tones in “Corundum” wouldn't sound out of place on Another Green World).

Throughout the collection, the duo's sing-song vignettes teem with gently clicking beats that scurry like mice and warm synth tones that glow like fireflies. Ambient jewels like “Immoral Architecture” glisten, while the pitter-patter of an old drum machine chugs alongside soft keyboard sparkle in “Ship.” In another group's hands, “Roadrunner” might violently roar at breakneck pace; Isan's treatment, not surprisingly, relaxedly murmurs and chatters. The group deviates subtly from the template on a couple of tracks, adding a funk rhythm to “Amber Button” (what seems a radical gesture in this ultra-controlled context) and a more robust keyboard attack in “five To Four, ten To Eleven.”

Ultimately, critics who dismiss Isan's sound as twee and excessively pretty will (dis)like this album as much as its others, while those who deem its material too static will find ample evidence of that quality too. Those more receptive to the group's understated charms, on the other hand, will find the finely-crafted new work equal to its previously-issued material. Still, one can't help but feel that Isan's material resides too contentedly on its admittedly gleaming surface; in place of cool reserve, one wishes the duo would lend its material a greater degree of gravitas by infusing it with more emotion.

July 2006