Gregory Alan Isakov
Evening Machines, 180G Black Vinyl LP
Evening Machines, in keeping with its backdrop as well as Isakov’s agrarian interests, is simple to the ear. That simple presentation leaves nothing for Isakov to hide behind. He lets the stripped down nuances of his lyrics and musicianship speak for themselves; the results are deceptively straightforward but immense in their complexity (though on the subject of scale, Evening Machines could do with one less track; it’s not bloated, but feels in need of a minor trim). Even less practiced, self-taught guitarists can probably pick the chords on "Wings in All Black" with little trouble, but getting them just right—making the notes and words hang in the air like echoes with each passing verse—is a whole other matter. Isakov is the sort of artist who reminds listeners that important music can be important without having to say so.
The gravity of his work discards the layers of pretense that often mute otherwise well intended indie folk; his honesty leaves Evening Machines in a state of raw vulnerability from start to finish. Nature might supply Isakov his motifs, but the work is all about introspection. The songs suggest abiding regret over past relationships, words unspoken and varying loves, whether lost or knotted. Sometimes, the love is the love of another: "I am brambles / but I am tangled in your love," he murmurs on "Bullet Holes," a track suggesting violence but ending on a mending of old wounds. Sometimes the love is love of, unsurprisingly, nature, because even our connection to the land we live on can sever or experience seismic alterations of one type or another.
Take "Caves," one of Evening Machine’s best tracks, where he discusses his old fondness for caves, recalling how the "bright hollow moon" would show "our insides on our outsides" after walking out of caverns and emerging under the setting sun. There’s a somber umbrella of worry opening slowly inside him as the song progresses, as he goes from caves to the heavens and gains a new appreciation for the world above. ("Now I think I like birds / See them fly from St. Paul / And I go running when the night aches / I hear her every time she calls.") It’s a song about change, and how painful change can be; we never hear why Isakov came to lose his taste for caves, but he does ask his audience to "hear the stars do their talking.” He’d rather not speak and listen to the world instead.