'Til We Reach The Sun' by Izzie DerryReview
In my regular attempts to make sense of how music works in our time (or to be more accurate, in the creative ways in which our local artists try to make it work), I've several times commented on the rebirth of the EP format and the consequent reduction in the number of traditional albums being released. Personally, I think that this has many benefits: from my perspective, it means most tracks by an artist get proper attention (and hence review): which frankly was not ever the case with that traditional category of "album tracks". With some lesser musicians, I'm afraid that led to "filler" tracks being recorded & included: a phenomenon which the return of the EP format thankfully eliminated. However, running this theory past some of the people concerned did result in several reporting that the driver was as much financial: they could raise funds to record EPs but not LPs.
One of the best exponents of this format has been Izzie Derry: her EPs such as ‘Take It from Me' and ‘Lost at Sea' were not only very popular with fans, but clear & significant milestones in her musical development including the paradigm shift from solo artist to fronting her own band.
Now however, she has taken the plunge and released her debut professional full album, ‘Til We Reach The Sun' (which comes out, interestingly, on the same day as Lauren South's own debut, ‘Tiny Boat', for which Izzie gave production advice & support).
So how did she navigate round the issues outlined above?
Well financially, the problem was easily solved via crowdfunding: so popular is she that this route seems to have been fairly painless once she took the initial psychological plunge. Those responsible are listed inside the cover & it's great to see so many members of the ‘Hot Music Live' community who pitched in.
Artistically, Izzie has eased the pressure on each of her songs getting heard by releasing no fewer than six of the ten songs as singles before the mothership. These are: "I Don't Know Why", the title track "Til We Reach The Sun", "Wasted Love", "Try", "Thank You" and "Young and Free". You should know these ones well by now & my thoughts about each of them, so all I need to do is refer you to the articles concerned should you wish to refresh your memory.
This leaves us the newbies "Broken and Used", "Nothing Lasts Forever", "Here We Go Again" and "Shake" with which to become acquainted.
The album is another big step forward in her career, both musically & lyrically, in the former case marking a transition from solo acoustic guitar songs to ones written on the piano & for a full band.
The words though will probably leave even more of an impression: and if I've gone into great detail in reviewing the singles, you'll note how Izzie eased into her new, no-nonsense frame of mind via the comparatively regretful first release of "I Don't Know Why" to increasing degrees of reproach, anger & revenge before lightening the mood with "Young and Free" when we probably couldn't take any more escalation of the emotional atmosphere.
Self-describing as "the love child of Laura Marling and Alanis Morissette", you can also (well I could) detect hints of Tori Amos in both the switch of instruments & lyrical targets. She's not been treated well by some people & now she is using her talents to call them out & by implication, attack wider societal problems around misogyny and emotional cruelty.
Unsurprisingly, "Broken and Used" fits into this aspect of Izzie's current work (this woman isn't prepared to equivocate any longer and one aspect of that is the lack of interest in ambiguity in song titles: she's telling it how it is). Initially sounding worn down, bruised & tired out by the impacts of oppression, (in fact she tells us this specially), Izzie combats the weariness to suddenly explode with unexpected (in the context of the song) anger: without altering the lyrics. She then alternates the two moods to emphasise the range of effects this sort of usage inflicts upon the human psyche.
"Nothing Lasts Forever" marks a return to her guitar playing mode (though as it builds there are plenty of other elements in there too) and is heartbreaking (probably why she didn't select it for a single release) and I suspect is going to be the 2023 equivalent "lighter in the air" moment at gigs. As with "I Don't Know Why" (and I suspect that it's more than coincidence that they sit together in the running order), we are talking melancholic regret, sadness more than anger & profound reflection on life. I just wonder how easy she finds playing it live without her own eye getting as moist as ours will?
"Here We Go Again" is a pretty groovy sounding song in which Izzie's mastery of writing with a keyboard is given even more prominence as she moves from using it for introspective ballads to an upbeat perky number on top of which her voice sits more prominently than on the rest of the album and it positively bounces confidently along. Then you realise what she is singing & you revel in her wittiest lyrics. In fact, having listened through her travails, you may share my pleasure in hearing her dishing out some choice put downs in this manner. I don't know if a further single release from the album is intended, but "Here We Go Again" is the possible contender.
Last but extremely far from least is "Shake" and this song has virtually no precedents in Izzie's previous work, indicating just how far her musical horizon has shifted in recent years. Taking full advantage of her band & their talents, were it not for her inimitable vocal character, you'd struggle to identify this artist with that of say 2017's "Give Me A Reason To Stay". I can only guess that the sound is such a radical departure that this shaped the decision not to release it as a single: so as not to traumatise our expectations… I wonder if this is the shape of things to come?
"Shake" unsurprisingly defies categorisation (or at least it's beyond my powers). Definitely far from folk music, this is Izzie's most rock song to date (the wonderful "Fire" approached from the blues direction) yet there is a whole lot of funk in there too and delights such as a very 70s keyboard song (think Sly Stone and his family) and Izzie takes her own vocals somewhere they've never been found before (has she actually processed them a little?). It's also quite complex in structure with unexpected stops, starts, licks from various instruments, structural swerves etc. It's also I think the track on which Izzie seems to be enjoying herself most on the album & that's a delight, especially given the prevailing mood: though the lyrics are hardly any more compromising than their companions.
If you've read my recent Izzie reviews, you'll be aware of who her current collaborators are, but it would be lacking in respect not to name them again. They are Tom Hammerton on electric guitar, Herbie Walker on keyboards and backing vocals, Matt Boyes on bass, Joe Hall on drums and a string section of Gabija Kasiliauskaite on violin & Alicja Bodnar who plays the ‘cello. In terms of the production, Luke May co-engineered and mixed ‘Til We Reach The Sun' and Sam Clines mastered it.
Always a purveyor of music of haunting beauty, Izzie has built upon that skill to take her art where it needed to go next, but where many musicians fear to take it or are too complacent to try: where that beauty creates emotional trauma in its audience & becomes more of a fraught experience: we love it, but it hurts us. That's a more profound artistic engagement and if the risks to our psyche are greater, so is the eventual outcome. As Duke Ellington once said: "..art is dangerous. It is one of the attractions; when it ceases to be dangerous, you don't want it." Izzie is no longer content to entertain us: she wants to shake us out of complacency and to no longer be constrained by the expectations of others. It's a huge creative step upwards and she deserves great credit for doing so while still moving her musicality onwards.
In terms of her relationship with her audience, I think there has been considerable growth. Never one to pander to them, Izzie I think is now happy to set them more rigorous challenges. Taken as a set, the album (which clearly results from a long period of reflection during COVID19) is pretty retrospective with the majority of songs brooding on past injustices & negative experiences: even the most positive song is largely nostalgic. In the past, this sort of exercise on her part has resulted in such great songs as "Made It This Far", which I know from personal testimony has had healing effects on people with its optimism that past trials can be overcome & inform choices moving forwards. This assertion is not absent from ‘Til We Reach The Sun' but it's buried deeper: at the moment Izzie sounds appalled how worse the world was than she'd previously considered. If there are lessons to be learned, then much of that work is down to you to figure it out as she was obliged to do. The best artists do not put everything on a plate for a listener & it's a credit to her that Izzie has reached the stage now where she trusts you to join the dots she's drawn & make your own plans based on what you see & hear.
In my recent review of "Dynamic" by Bar Pandora, I pondered on her idiosyncratic artwork (all photography, as with the single was by Simon Derry and design by Judith Derry). You'll have spotted (how could you not?) the raising of the bar in terms of the increasingly dramatic and disturbing images. For the album, I'm not quite sure what to make of it: Izzie is up to her waist in the sea looking determined (which one gets from her lyrics): is it a metaphor for struggle (not that she is visibly struggling), approaching drowning sensations? It's actually rather enigmatic in relation to the songs, though inside there is another, apparently taken moments before, where she is entering the water with a look somewhere between anxious & defiant…. On the back, we see her from the rear, contemplating the sea: we cannot see her face, but her body language is more relaxed. I think you'll need to decode all that yourselves……
This is a stunning debut & I mean that in more than one sense. Utterly determined to keep on moving forwards, 'Til We Reach the Sun' is the zenith of Izzie's career to date: though we know new heights will be scaled next. Where it also stuns is in the sheer intensity of the content: I noted, early on in her run of singles as each raised the bar higher that if experiencing them one by one was emotionally tough, what would playing them together feel like? Well I have & I am still here to record this.. but it will leave a big impression & frankly that precisely what it should do. Once heard, never forgotten: and in this world of bland, homogenous chart hits, there are plenty you cannot say that about.
Izzie has a home town launch gig for ‘Til We Reach The Sun' at The Tin on November 24th
Tickets are available via this link: https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/izzie-derry-shanghai-hostage-the-tin-at-the-coal-tickets/13607108