May 23, 2013

Making Noise: Isobell CD 'Sea Spells' wades into the changing tides of life

The songs are intricate, hypnotic and the sum of five equally strong parts.

By Aimsel Ponti
News Assistant

Isobell has a sound that paints with an experimental brush and can induce kaleidoscopic, century-spanning dreams. The Portland- and South Portland-based band is set to release "Sea Spells," the follow-up to 2009's debut "Maproom," with a show at Space Gallery in Portland on June 1.

click image to enlarge

Isobell introduces its new CD, “Sea Spells,” with a CD-release show on June 1 at Space Gallery in Portland. Olas and The Reverie Machine will also play.

Courtesy photo


WHAT: CD-release show with Olas and The Reverie Machine

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. June 1

WHERE: Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $8; 18-plus



"Especially Me," Low

"Elephants," Warpaint

"Perth," Bon Iver

"Terrible Love," The National

"Lay Your Cards Out," Polica

"Slow Show," The National

"You Got Me," The Roots featuring Erykah Badu

"Elephant Gun," Beirut

"Hey," The Pixies

"Play With Fire," The Rolling Stones

Turn your radio dial to 102.9 WBLM every Friday at 8:30 a.m. to hear Aimsel Ponti wax poetic about her top live music picks for the week with the Captain and Celeste.

"Sea Spells" is home to nine (10 with the bonus track) songs that are intricate, hypnotic and the sum of five equally strong parts. Some are slow and moody; others bare their teeth.

The members of isobell are lyricist and vocalist Hannah Tarkinson; Chris McKneally on guitars and ukulele; Bekah Hayes on piano, organ, synthesizer, vibes and vocals; Drew Wyman on electric and acoustic bass; and Chris Wilkes on drums and vocals.

GO recently floated some questions to Tarkinson. Here's what floated back.

There's an almost ancient theme to "Sea Spells," like the songs could have been written long, long ago. What inspired them? Were you going for a specific theme?

I love that you get an ancient theme vibe from this album. We weren't going for a specific theme other than letting things unfold as they will. But the content is ageless for sure -- love and loss, wading through the gray areas of life, asking the big questions and making bold moves.

We have an organic writing process that works best for this band. Pretty much all our songs are begun by Chris McKneally coming up with melody and song structure on guitar, sitting and looping parts for me as I write, then we bring this to the full band and everyone has at the song, bringing their own druthers and wiles.

Occasionally, we'll have some suggestions or intention about other people's parts, but we usually leave parts to the player and then often the arrangements will be fine-tuned or redone by the whole band.

Why is the album called "Sea Spells"?

"Sea Spells" suggests being mesmerized or transfixed by some awesome force, for better or for worse like we're little boats and we live next to such an awesome force -- the ocean. We love and want to play music that's immersive, enveloping and oceanic. The sea plays an important part in our sense of place and orientation.

The album name came to me while visiting my friend Kris Johnsen's art studio. We asked him to do the album art for us, because he's my favorite artist in Portland and we've collaborated on projects in the past for my jewelry/accessories company, Ponomo.

I had originally tried to translate the sound/feel of the album into a visual for him to work with, and when I arrived at his studio to see his first concepts, I found myself surrounded by a sea of wet ink blots and rough sketches at first glance, it was so beautiful and oceanic. The name just came to me.

What's your favorite song on "Sea Spells," and why?

"Prouts Neck" and "Don't Move" tie for my favorite song on the album. "Prouts Neck" because it's so sparse that you can actually experience the nuance of song. "Don't Move" because I have a primal scream in there that both shatters and contains itself like a prism. It's not every day that you can work that into an album.

What do you think is most successful about this recording?

We were able to sift through an incredible amount of ideas by working slowly and thoughtfully. The result is an excellent balance of individual musical personalities collaborating to create a new musical identity; consequently, we achieved a unique, original sound.

Where can people purchase a copy, and what's the best place to find isobell online?

You can purchase the album locally at Bull Moose, at shows and online through iTunes, CD Baby and Bandcamp. The best places to find isobell are on Facebook, Reverbnation, Bandcamp and

Staff Writer Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:

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