Evening Machines was released on October 5th, Isakov’s fifth album. Isakov is a full time farmer in Colorado, who tends to his music career in the winter (he has his studio in a barn on his farm). He has been described as an indie-folk artist. This feels like a full life – it’s difficult enough keeping a farm going, but Isakov has also sold a large number of albums (370,000), impressive for a musician who hitherto has released them only via his own label.
The music is more indie than folk – a rich sound pervades the album, a wall of sound behind the tracks which is more Elbow and Eels than Spector but nonetheless providing a unity of mood to the album. Even ‘Bullet Holes’, the track which is most obviously from the acoustic-Guthrie-tradition (‘Chemicals’ is the other one) moves from the initial sparse acoustic guitar and vocal into this wider tone as the song develops through the addition of background vocals and instrumentation.
Isakov’s vocals are understated, held back so they don’t dominate the mix on the songs – but in many ways the more powerful because of it. Have a listen to ‘Dark, dark, dark’ – “Won’t you sing me something for the dark, dark, dark” – in the link below and you’ll get a feel.
The lyrics have the same ability to hold the attention without overwhelming, a mood built by imagery. ‘Chemicals’ has a great line, “You saw her bathing in the creek/Now you’re jealous of the water” but in general Evening Machines isn’t an album of songs where you’re going to pull out individual lines. The lyrics merge into the musical sound as a whole. You can get a feel for their broader poetic quality in the following as the images build their ambiguity to the concluding title line of ‘Was I Just Another One’
“Did you ever find the garden/where the doves go to bathe
did you open up your heart there/or were you quiet and afraid
did you light up every lantern/your flame whipping against the wind
or did you fall back to the alleys/with all your secrets to defend
between the cities and the temple/between the jury and the judge
gavel pounds down like thunder/that’s inside of all of us
were we kids out in the desert/or birds running cross the sun
did I stumble through your darkness/or was I just another one”
Not just because of Isakov’s background (though presumably this is part of it?) it feels like you’re listening to the quieter countryman whose voice carries the room not because he dominates, but because what he says quietly is more musical and more worth listening to than the loud person trying to hold attention.
Isakov has a short tour of the UK from December 4th – 9th, details on his website.
‘Dark, Dark, Dark’ – official audio: