It's been three years since The Invisible released their Mercury nominated, self-titled debut and in that time they've experienced some heady heights and, unfortunately so, some very personal lows. Nowhere near as pop as the debut -the song 'Lifeline' probably comes the closest - the band is leaning very much into the dark this time round, the album allows the band to explore the depths of their musical ambitions with the output being murky and claustrophobic, yet totally listenable at the same time.
Rispah, if you were wondering, is the name of front man Dave Okumu's late mother, who passed away during the writing of the album. Palpably so, the album is afloat in a field of semantics surrounding loss and bereavement. Okumu has in fact cited the album as a "love letter to grief" and through the ghostly vocals, tender arrangements and personal lyrics, you can quite plainly hear the anguish which flows through the album's core.
Through the key junctures of the album, in the beginning, middle, and end (during the final seconds of closer and lead single, 'Protection') the sound of a group of women singing traditional Kenyan spiritual chants add an otherworldliness to the album. Recorded by Okumu at his mother's wake, they stand as some of the album's most poignant and personal points, yet are but one facet of the album's intelligent design.
Okumu's wraithlike vocals serves as one of the band's other key facets, his voice delicately drifting above the backing, whose ethereal atmospherics come as equal parts post-rock destitution and acoustic, Bon Iver-esque, softness. The band really does come to their own in terms of their musical ability, each member with their own standout contributions to the album. Leo Taylor, the band's drummer, is an ever-present delight to hear, as he incorporates afrobeat, jazz and electronica befittingly. Bassist/synth-man Tom Herbert, you may know him from his time with the of the progressionist jazz experimenters Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear, provides the futurism that gives the band their dystopian output, yet his bass lines are the stuff of Can or Neu! excellence. On the track 'Wings', the band each come together from the humble hi-hat and bass walk beginnings to the nimbly unfurled majesty - the Radiohead resemblances in this song along are uncanny at times.
Radiohead are a clear influence here; from Okumu's Thom Yorke-like, ethereal singing style and O'Brien/Greenwood guitar picking, the faultless bass playing of Herbert seeming as effortless as Colin Greenwood makes it seem and the so refined it must be from a drum machine sound of Taylor don't exactly mirror Radiohead, but they definitely feed off most of their output. Further influences, notably The Cure and some of the more minimalist parts of TV On The Radio's output are particular similarities, yet whilst the album has inspirational moments to it, it never quite breaks through to reach the quality some of their contemporaries have managed.
Cerebral, atmospheric and intelligent, the album is at times also a little overbearing and worse of all, becomes a little samey after a while. In what is hopefully only a glimpse of what the band has to offer rather than the pinnacle of what could be a truly exciting and enjoyable band to come, Rispah is by no means a gentle ride, but a ride well worth taking.
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