Isolée: We Are Monster

What makes We Are Monster, Rajko Muller's long-awaited Isolée follow-up to Rest, so appealing is not merely the distinctiveness of Isolée's sound but more its elusiveness, its refusal to conform to the familiar earmarks of any one style. As rubbery synth patterns and eerie themes float above punchy cowbell beats in “Pictureloved,” one wonders: Is it techno? microhouse? disco? electro? The answer, of course, is that it's all and none of the above, with virtually every track defying such reductionist urges. What it definitely is, however, is idiosyncratic, a fresh and spacey distillation of myriad styles and disjointed melodic fragments. Bolstering that slippery character is Muller's penchant for constant metamorphosis. While most artists define a pulse and then gradually add and subtract layered patterns, “My Hi-Matic,” for instance, starts out as a banging groove accompanied by a sweeping synth theme, briefly turns disco and then slamming electro-funk before sailing out on a sublime wave of Boards of Canada sparkle. New ideas constantly surface in what appears at first to be non sequitur manner but which eventually comes to seem like calculated design.

“Schrapnell” and “Enrico” are especially stunning. A raw, ‘50s-styled guitar motif animates the strolling stomp of “Schrapnell” though Isolée includes silken strings (generated by what sounds like a mellotron) that airlifts the song into the ‘70s. The equally remarkable “Enrico” opens with a gulping bass lurch and tremulous vocal stutters before getting smoothed out by clanking beats and scratchy guitars. Also strong are the hypnotic electro disco-funk of “Do Re Mi” with its careening synth filigrees and the Teutonic stomp of “Face B” whose croaking electro patterns and crackling snare splats supply the oomph while phantom choirs furnish the disorientation. Admittedly there is a slight drop in quality during the final third. Snarling electric guitars and drums in “Today” sound rather anomalous in this context (though vibes bring a somewhat jazzy twist to the song near its end) and, though he generally eschews run-on grooves throughout the album, Muller lets the minimal pinprick beats of “Pillowtalk” cruise for a too-long ten minutes. Such flaws matter little, however, when broached in the context of this formidable and captivating album.

July 2005