Teen Daze is one hell of a statement, but for musician Jamison Isaak, capturing a sort of shoe-on-gum nerd-chic is easy –made evident by his elaborate use of synthesizers to craft themes that would make Nobuo Uematsu jealous. Add in a strong swirl of pop and his music often becomes an interestingly developed means of blending seemingly opposite ideas. His latest release, Themes For Dying Earth, attempts to capture mother nature’s serenity.
Themes For Dying Earth is lush with sentiment –an intense ambience washes over your soul. Jamison Isaak crafts a near seamless soundscape; across multiple tracks he generates a sense of tranquility. The album weaves together each song with a perfect atmosphere, allowing a rather sturdy forty minutes to pass by effortlessly.
Upon my first listen of Themes, the album had persuaded me as being so enchanting that after checking to make sure my headphones were working, I longingly whined, “Is that all?” By all means Themes is thematic; it executes so well that it’s easy to become lost in your own imagination as the album narrates. It begins with “Cycle,” an exceptionally poppy tune for Themes for Dying Earth, which with further introspection, really gives me the impression of having some sort of amusement-park-ride-line music. It’s a painful tease of what’s to come.
“Dream City,” is Themes first moment of full immersion. This second track is intensely minimal. The same alternating notes claim the foreground over a shimmering dissonance. On occasion, a passing atmospheric layer breathes life into the texture –creating a compelling and organic soundscape. A few tracks later and Jamison Isaak pulls you in deeper yet again. “Cherry Blossom” is the first of many auditory spectacles. Synthesizers flutter –simulating the song’s namesake –petals fall past you. Another synthesizer plays out as if coincidental –combining a seemingly disjointed series of notes. As the song progresses, intensity builds and so do the layers. More instrumental voices join until the song amasses into a grand, chip-esque climax.
The album continues this way for quite some time but with a number of odd additions. Before I can go on praising Themes, some things ought to be said. The more ambient parts of Themes tend to carry the album as a whole –and possibly because I like the ambience. Themes is wonderfully constructed for the most part. The instrumentals are often carefully chosen rather than overdone. Even when cheaper decisions are made, the overall atmosphere can push a song just long enough that the next might grab your attention.
Which brings me to my subsequent, more intentional listens. Themes For Dying Earth is fantastic for pressing play and forgetting. The ambient parts will wash over you, and then, you will be painfully awakened by the alarming use of human vocals in this album.
Quite frankly I really wanted to love Themes but the album plays a constant Jekyll & Hyde. I found myself skipping every other track so I could enjoy the more careful constructions while avoiding Jamison Isaak’s overly dramatic self-insertions. In particular, “Lost,” had sucked the most hope from me. The album began with a pleasantness. The melodies were lovely and reminded me of childhood. “Feeling hopeless, feeling lost. There’s no justice” –the lyrics resonated with me so well I wondered if Themes pleasantries were a bait and switch attempt to cast listeners into despair. After all, the album is called Themes For Dying Earth –with an emphasis on mortality.
The problem specifically with the vocals is that, aside from being over sweetened with cheap effects, they just don’t feel motivated by anything. No matter how often I listen to “Lost” I just can’t figure out at what point the song really would have been better with any vocals. Time and time again, Jamison Isaak proves that his instrumental composition is exceptional but he just can’t pin down a worthwhile pop song for Themes –my concerns reach well beyond a single track.
One of the saddest losses of Themes was track seven, “Rising.” The song begins with a wonderful mixture of keys and guitar. It’s a bit chintzy but in a very tolerable, enjoyable way. Even the percussion is doable. It’s just shy of “vaporwave” but still staying composed and constructed. Then, the artist behind it all shoehorns in. The vocals are unwarranted, unneeded, and frankly put a split in the entire atmosphere of an otherwise solid song.
But Dr. Jekyll did convince me that at minimum I enjoyed Themes For Dying Earth. Ultimately, Teen Daze has created another fantastic, thematic album with some excellent soundscapes. This time; tranquil and synth driven. But his pop preoccupations are still prevalent, and while that may have given his other albums some relevance –I have to wonder about what is lost here. If you’re a fan of Teen Daze then this latest release will be perfection and by no means is the album completely tarnished. Those who dare give Themes For Dying Earth a listen must be willing to navigate the albums ebb and flow.