In August 2013, Bend rock quartet Isles turned heads with an impressive first splash as they introduced themselves with Viracocha—35 minutes of beautifully-sculpted instrumental ambient rock. Largely inspired by a series of improvised jam sessions, the songs are built on meandering song structures that give the EP an innately organic feel. Washed in layers of twinkling delay-driven guitars and ethereal synths over cavernous drums and bass, it's the kind of music that begs to be played loudly during long drives through dramatic stormy coastlines and expansive mountain ranges.
A stunning debut in its own right, the project may end up being remembered as a mere sample platter of what the band is truly capable of.
"We hadn't been a band that long when we made Viracocha," explains Elijah Goodall (vocals/guitar/synths). "We had been playing improv shows because we really wanted to get out there and it had been a long time since any of us had played live. Then we just took some of the improvs we had recorded and refined them to be a little more structured song-wise."
For a group of musicians who readily admit to being "extreme perfectionists," the project came together rather quickly and without much planning. Meanwhile, a much more ambitious (and thematically complex) full-length debut album, Wounded Tropic, was already well underway.
"The album is broken down into three movements—which are before, during, and after a storm hits a small island," says Goodall as he offers a peek at Wounded Tropic's elaborate storyline. "Then it's told from different voices. One of the voices that's portrayed is the natives on the island, another is the voice of the actual island that they live on, the third voice is the storm that hits, and then the fourth voice is sort of a collective: it's the ocean for a lot of the songs and then there's one song where it also involves the rest of humanity too."
Years in the making, the concept album takes a step away from the band's instrumental roots and employs vocals and lyrics to help tell an intricate story. Of course, those vocals are backed by Isles' signature soundscapes that take advantage of the group's growing collection of musical gadgetry. Don't be surprised if you hear manipulated hydrophone field recordings colliding with sparkling guitars and synths.
"We're definitely effects pedal junkies," chuckles Allyn Dubief (bass/drums/synths). "We all run through pedal boards and just run one pedal into another to get crazy sounds. All of us are trying to get sounds we've never heard before." He continues, "For me, I might get a weird dirty, washy bass sound that reminds me of a volcano erupting, which could go along with an emotion I've felt in the past."
"It can get pretty competitive too, trying to find the most different sound or the craziest sound that no one knows what it is," adds Tyson Vandenbroucke (guitar/synths).
That friendly competition has driven four local musicians to grow and achieve things they couldn't do alone—setting the stage for one of the most exciting local album releases of the year as Isles rolls out pieces of the project in several parts over the coming months.
Isles, with Haunted Summer
8 pm, Sunday, August 2
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr.