Put your skirt on

Isobell are a girl with style, grace, and muscle
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  May 20, 2009

isobell main

Portland's aggressive new frontgal can hit all the notes while she hits you in the face.

Recorded last year with Ron Harrity (who also plays drums — seriously, what can't this guy do?), Map Room was an album before Isobell was really a band, mostly just Hannah Tarkinson on vocals, Chris McKneally on guitars and bass, and Bekah Hayes on piano and other keyboards (plus a notable vocal front on "Love in 3 Verses"). They've since added drummer Seth Kearns (This Way), Josh Denkmire on bass, and Eric Ambrose on keyboards and maybe a horn or two, while Hayes has moved to LA.

Tarkinson has a brassy delivery, with an affect that makes her sound like Sinead O'Connor at times, and can often make the lyrics tough to make out. She grabs you by the throat like Cat Power sometimes can when she's not doing her shy routine.

The band consistently play with dreamy and dainty openings and backings, then crash in with distorted guitars and gritty vocals, setting up expectations of pretty and delivering like a spotlight in the face. This is carried through from the album-opening "Nonnie," where we're greeted by dreamy organ that's supplanted by an alien whine and then swaggering rock, to the late-album "Peeping You," where Tarkinson cuts like an ice-pick through Jell-O: "Behind these two lids/Yes, it's true/I've been peeping you."

Hayes's piano work is the pink bow on Isobell's black leather jacket, opening "8 Things" like a Sting tune and finishing "Matador" as a lifeline to hold o nto. McKneally stands out with Idaho-style guitar work, playing bits of notes and letting the sounds of his fingers rubbing the strings stand in place of a lick, then delivering big punctuations where they're needed. He's probably best in "In Your Wake," a Pavement-like amalgam of cow-punk and distortion, a mean kick in the shins: "I dodge you like bullets."

Tarkinson's day gig is as a designer running Ponomo and this disc is nothing if not stylish, with a flair for the dramatic and a sense of the sublime. As a debut by a band that's just becoming a band, it's a promising one, indeed.

Sam Pfeifle can be reached at sam_pfeifle@yahoo.com.

Map Room |Released by Isobell,  with Lady Lamb the Beekeeper + Phantom Buffalo | at SPACE Gallery, in Portland | May 30 | www.myspace.com/izzabella

  Topics: CD Reviews , Cat Power, Sinead O'Connor, Ron Harrity,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
    "(Israeli) immigration asked me at the airport why I didn’t leave when I could have and I said it was because I felt safe. They told me I was nuts.”
  •   WHAT YOU SAY, RYAN?  |  July 16, 2014
    Ryan’s calling card is his sincerity. While the production and presentation are of a genre, you won’t find him talking about puffing the chron or dissing women or dropping a million f-bombs or using a bunch of contemporary rap jargon. He’s got a plan and he executes it, with more variety and modes of attack than he’s had on display to this point.
  •   BETTY CODY, 1921-2014  |  July 11, 2014
    The Maine music community lost a hidden giant last week with the death of Betty Cody, at 92.
  •   ADVENTURES IN LO-FI  |  July 11, 2014
    One obvious reason for heavy music is catharsis, a healthy release for all the built-up bullshit modern life entails. Like kickboxing class for suburban women, but with lots of black clothing and long hair.
  •   FULL HORNS AHEAD  |  July 03, 2014
    An arrangement of alto and baritone sax, trombone, and trumpet combining to front a band like Mama’s Boomshack grabs your attention so completely. There just aren’t many bands doing that.

 See all articles by: SAM PFEIFLE