Percussionist Shayna Dunkelman draws inspiration from a variety of styles and sounds from the past and present to create a distinctive soundscape on her band Peptalk’s new album Islet. Peptalk’s sound combines traditional instrumentation and vocals with naturalistic sounding programming techniques similar to those explored by The Pastels and their Geographic labelmates in the early 2000s. Members Michael Carter and Angelica Negron’s talents work well in conjunction with Shayna’s xylo-synth to flesh out Islet’s songs with gentle vocals, synthesizers, horns, bells, strings, and a multitude of percussive elements and earthy effects.
“Panorama”, the album’s opener, glides in gently as if to make the listener feel they’re arriving at an isolated paradise. The song does an unexpected disappearing trick two thirds in that has it fading out before making a surprise return to provide a satisfying ending. “Driftwood”, with its thoughtful, personal lyrics and serene vocals is the record’s standout track, and the most accessible of any of the offerings here. Additional highlights include “Nilbog” (say it backward), the gleeful “Podesta”, the dynamic “Bow Chaser”, the natural sounding “Locus”, and the moody “Saltie”. Only a few of the songs on the record have lyrics, which is a shame because when they are present, Angelica’s comforting, slightly accented voice and intimate poetry complement the music perfectly. The songs without actual words at the very least contain digitally treated oohs and ahs. These vocals wash by gently in the background in much the same way Björk experimented with voices on her 2004 album Medúlla. It’s an effective technique that helps ground the listener by providing a consistent, human connection throughout.
Islet successfully avoids sounding samey and boring by utilizing a variety of instrumental combinations on each song while simultaneously providing enough signature impressions to create a cohesive work. The most familiar instruments are used sparingly, allowing the more esoteric sounds to take center stage, thereby creating a more escapist experience for the listener. Fans of Shayna’s work with the experimental band Xiu Xiu looking for subversive lyrics and abrasive instrumentation (similar to those heard on that group’s 2014 album Angel Guts: Red Classroom) would be advised to look elsewhere. However, fans that have a wider palette, who are able to appreciate the gentler side of naturalistic electronic music, will certainly be rewarded upon visiting Peptalk’s utterly unique Islet.