Is It Is: Hollyhocks (2012)

Bio (from Facebook.com/isitis):
Is It Is is a 3 piece mixing elements of atmospheric conditions and emotional outbursts.

Musicians:
James Joseph Capps (Guitars and Vocals), Jack Robert Hammack III (Bass), Justin Duane Brooks (Drums)

I am a big fan of things off the beaten path.  Not the norm.  A little different.  Obviously, or I wouldn’t spend so much of my time writing about music and movies that very few people have heard of, in the hope that I can get a few more people exposed to these works.  HOLLYHOCKS is a great example of the things I like finding; it’s not your average album in any way.  There’s no three-chord progressions repeated ad infinitum, there’s no pop sensibilities making the music saccharine; Is It Is makes rock music, but not your average rock music, and that’s what I like about HOLLYHOCKS.

Is It Is makes music that I haven’t heard in a long while.  In the email that I received from James Capps requesting I review the CD, he explained their sound as combining “the wall of texture of My Bloody Valentine with Cure-like emotion being held together by thundering drums and precise bass lines.”  I can see that comparison, but when I listened to HOLLYHOCKS the first thing that came to mind were two albums I have not listened to in years: Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die, and Hovercraft’s Akathisia.  Now, granted, those two albums are instrumental and HOLLYHOCKS has vocals on 5 of its 8 tracks, so the comparison isn’t a perfect match, but stylistically, tonally, and the mood of the work was very reminiscent.  I also hear a little less-jazzy Morphine in Is It Is.

Is It Is: James Capps, Justin Brooks, and Jack Hammack

Musically, I really enjoyed HOLLYHOCKS.  Walls of dissonance, feedback, good guitar work without over-reliance on power chords, tight bass & drum harmony; there is a lot to like on this album.  I like the way Is It Is can quickly shift from a mellow, pretty little riff to deep and fuzzy distortion, and in this way they also call to mind old Sonic Youth.  There are tracks that have catchy, danceable riffs (“Northern Sound,” “H.Huge”), and there are tracks that would go better with chilling out with beer in hand (“Interlude,” “Everyday”).  My biggest complaint musically with HOLLYHOCKS is that the tracks could be longer; with the style and the intricacies of the music, it seems that Is It Is could make a more extended play on many of these tracks.  I may feel this way because of the Hovercraft / Tortoise reminiscing, but it just seems like there is a lot of potential for some extended play on these songs.

Lyrically, I was a bit more confused.  Capps’ lyrics are either very cryptic, to the point that I’m just unsure what the hell he is trying to say, or they are just wordplay with no real reasoning behind them. On “Mouthbreather” Capps sings “Don’t let it ruin / It all falls on / Better skies await / As we turn the sun / You, a water-flower now / Scratching at the door / Water flowing out.”  Um… hmm.  Well, hmm.  Don’t know what to say about that.  On “The Away Team” he sings “There is a wolf in our cave / Excited eyes for a slave / To destroy our home / Complacent lights fear no sleep.”  To which I say: what?  Maybe it’s poetry and I don’t understand the pretext behind it.  Or maybe it’s just fun to mess with the audiences heads if they take the time to try and analyze the lyrics.  Truthfully, I would probably like HOLLYHOCKS even more if it was an instrumental album.

Capps and Brooks, all tangled up in stripes.

The sound quality of HOLLYHOCKS is decidedly lo-fi, but in a good way.  Much like early White Stripes albums, it seems that Is It Is is attempting to capture that garage rock, fuzzy, lo-fi sound, and they have done so.  The quality adds to the warmth of the dissonance, and serves the compositions on the album well.  The negative to this lo-fi aesthetic again comes with the lyrics; it is hard to hear Capps’ words and harder still to understand them.  More so, I just can’t say I enjoy the tone of his voice.  This may be because of the recording quality, or it may be just because it rubs me the wrong way.  His voice is not necessarily bad, and on the other hand having a “bad” voice doesn’t mean you can’t be an enjoyable singer that works well with your music, just look at Rancid’s Tim Armstrong for a perfect example.  I’m not sure what exactly it is about the vocals, but I would like HOLLYHOCKS a lot more if it was instrumental only.

Overall I really enjoyed HOLLYHOCKS.  It brought me back to music I haven’t thought about in a long time, music that I really enjoyed (and will be putting back onto my iPod for a re-listen), and music that many bands just don’t do anymore.  HOLLYHOCKS was not perfect, but it was really good.  Everyone has their own taste, their own feelings, and I’m sure my issues with the vocals will not be shared by everyone that listens to the album, but for me that was the one thing that kept this good album from being a great album.  Still, it was highly enjoyable and I look forward to hearing where this band takes their music next.

Overall 7 / 10

HOLLYHOCKS for sale: http://isitis.bandcamp.com/album/hollyhocks (it’s FREE)

HOLLYHOCKS site: http://www.isitismusic.com

Is It Is: Hollyhocks
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