Since his first solo release (‘#1’) in late 2019, Thomas Isbister has been serving up frequent hearty dishes. Music well-cooked and seasoned just right. A Masterchef of sorts, in July 2021 Isbister offered up his latest delight, ‘#6’. This volume is a continuation of his explorative and innovative menu, but easily backs itself as a standalone to the five volumes that came before.
Innocent yet earnest, Isbister has managed to invite us into his world of wonder. To see through his lenses and share in tales otherwise terrifying or mundane, to see them become full of colour, fun, and adventure. His invitation is so persuasive that it’s nigh on impossible to turn down.
A mix of happy and sad songs, often mysterious and sometimes confusing, ‘#6’ presents 10 tracks with moments of utter ludicrousness. Not only is the interplay between the every day and the extra-ordinary explored lyrically, tonally and texturally Isbister and his recording partners – Ryan Chin (Ryan Fisherman) and Elmore Jones (Adam Hattaway and the Haunters) – have taken the wildest, weirdest and best from days gone by, and predicted sounds to come.
A break from previous endeavours, Isbister has also enlisted some extra musical hands on ‘#6’ (in Jones’ mum’s house nonetheless), with Doug Brush providing percussion throughout. The track Puddle is reminiscent of Harry Nilsson’ earliest work, upbeat, psychedelic and like stepping into a carnival. Eyelids bears the weight of a lush strings, crisp snare drum, and arid alt-country guitar lines. Isbister doesn’t stop there though, I Found A Fish invites finger-snapping in time with an ’80s vibe, an upbeat bass (Ryan Fisherman) and an overly lush horn section.
I Found A Fish perhaps most accurately describes a common theme on this album, moments gone by and the importance of being present in them; “I found a fish I told it to come hither/it swam away.” There are many of these moments, which ordinarily would have been lost, but our narrator refuses to have it that way. He tells us on the Harrison/Young-esque Almost that “when things are grey/ you learn to love the shade” and more blatantly states on One Of Many that things are been and done already.” While moments have gone, they can still impart meaning to the world.
If there had to be a staff pick it would be the pop-inflected tale of woe, Ghost In A Car. A gamble to include handclaps, and la la las while telling the story of a couple in a car toppling off a cliff, but the gamble pays off. Profits, even! Almost as haunting as the tale is Greg Knowles’ trumpet harmony, sitting as if it had always been there… or perhaps had never left.
‘#6’’s closing statement is the instrumental Moon Bass, a moody movement that adds another critical layer the second you get comfortable in it. Evocative of the Goodnight Kiwi, Moon Bass begins with mellotron, through to pots-and-pans styled percussive notes, to searing overdriven guitars. From start to finish through new wave, ’60s RnB, acid-casualty psychedelia and pop-driven hooks, ‘#6’ leaves us awaiting the next instalment, hopefully, the wait won’t be long.