Manchester four-piece ist ist have finally released their highly anticipated debut album, Architecture. Over the past six years the band have released a succession of singles and EPs garnering a loyal fanclub and organic popularity in the busy Manchester music scene. Following the fame of post-punk revival bands (IDLES, Porridge Radio, The Murder Capital etc.) it seems almost unnecessary to further saturate this anarchistic genre. Let me assure you, this album is absolutely necessary. ist ist’s debut is on par with most other bands third or fourth albums, it goes beyond singles and filler tracks becoming in its entirety a concept.
Architecture opens with Wolves, the lead single was released earlier this year but takes on a new ferocity in the album’s company. The track sounds like a warning, there’s a threatening atmosphere but you can’t help and listen as the tension concentrates. The unearthly baritone of frontman Adam Houghton enters poignantly – “there is no god” – as ist ist dictate a musical spirituality free of moralistic constraint, pretty damn punk. The supernatural element of the album is sustained through the sporadic synthesising but ultimately grounded by beguiling guitar hooks.
You’re Mine ups the tempo paralleling an underlying urgency. What you think is another song about boys and girls and the oh so complicated nature of young love is dismissed, and the band opt for something a bit more existential. It is bold to include such cliché with lyrics like “we need to understand the essence of life” but somehow it works. There’s something apathetic about Houghton’s vocals that stops you from even taking the piss because they’re not trying to be cool and philosophical – they’re giving it to us bluntly and strumming through the bullshit.
Like a classic 80s track, Black kicks in an electro-fuelled fashion, I am a sucker for some synth. Contrary to its title, the song somehow makes up for the romance that the more aptly titled You’re Mine lacked. It takes a more traditional stab nonetheless, the uncompromising vocals with dynamic guitar still manage to create a disparity between ist ist and their contemporaries.
Discipline is a beating break from the disorientating temper of adjacent tracks, it could easily be a Joy Division B Side, telling the girl from She’s Lost Control that she needs some discipline. For the album, however, it is a mental break for listeners, a straightforward cautionary allowing your inner Nietzsche to sit back and relax.
A New Love Song is perfect. It is exactly as it is titled. The band implore a deep romance elevated by an ethereal hook. This is a song I’m going to ugly cry to with red wine when no one understands me. Rinse and repeat. But I think it’s the kind of song you change the meaning of for yourself, the band are detached musically and lyrically however, this adds to the immediacy of human emotion they uncover, it is universal but personal interpretation provokes difference.
Silence and Night’s Arm are ist ist oldies, having been re-recorded for the album. There is a refined nostalgia for fans who may resent the disappearance of the original recordings. Nonetheless, it’s admirable to see the band esteeming their earlier material and improving on it for album release. A lot of EPs and early singles fall into the shadows of a band’s discography but both tracks deserve their place on the album and work fluidly with new material, it would be a shame to see them lost.
And here we have my favourite part of any album – the name drop! ist ist drop their debut title in lyric “the architecture of your mind is pure” in Drowning in The Shallow End. It’s like they’re explaining themselves – dropping the title here suggest that like the mind, the album is pure but meticulous in its architecture. And rightly so, as the track builds an instrumental rapture is joined by a chorus of “we’re all drowning in the shallow end” and suddenly a community embraces this forlorn melody.
Drawing on the earlier assertion “there is no god”, the omnipresence of “the committee” in Under Your Skin is interesting especially in combination with the refrain. The track sordidly marches to an uplifting chorus – “I’m under your skin” – prevailing in a wave of synth throbbing with life.
Slowly We Escape feels more like an epilogue to the album but offers a perfect departure not quite achieved in Under Your Skin. The track wholly summarises the dogmatic resistance of the album underpinned with a casual doom and the mounting musical drama is almost overwhelming tying together every emotion felt in listening. The “overwhelmed by love” lyric really got me. To finish it off, the track peaks and then gradually fades to silence – like that’s never been done before! But really not in this way. It ends so expectedly but the feelings stirred are not resolved. Album 2 anyone?
From the get-go, Architecture explores a primacy of human emotion. The lyrics are simple but sang with conviction accessing a tangibility of emotion. It’s easy to say the band is raw because they are, but now in music “raw” in synonymous with not quite polished. ist ist are truly raw – not in the inexperienced way because they demonstrate how musically adept they are. But their sound is rare and gritty and exactly how it should be. It’s like ‘there’s a lot of effort in being effortless’. I think ist ist do what other bands try to do – not give a fuck. There is an apathy in how the band promote themselves, deliver their music and make their music – like extra-terrestrials underground (intra-terrestrial?). A pop synth rock bliss foursome that makes space for itself in post-punk, not the revival.