Review – “Isolator” – Cygnets

Isolator coverreviewed by Michael Thomas

Everyone at some point in life needs some time alone. It can be refreshing to just “get away from it all” and hear the sounds of silence. But being by oneself for too long, and the dark side of isolation is explored to its fullest on the third full-length from Edmonton synth-pop trio Cygnets.

Cygnets are back, but they never really left. Since 2012’s Dark Days (their last full-length) they’ve also released an EP, and front man Logan Turner released eight free albums in 2013. As a band, there are two things you can expect from Cygnets, and they deliver them both in spades: dark electronic music and dramatic lyrics. Though that doesn’t mean analog instruments are gone by the wayside; there’s some very tasty guitar work at play, like in “Juno,” “The Passerby” and “My Sister, My Twin.”

The album takes its name seriously—every character in every song is alone in some way, from a simple unrequited love to death and perhaps even beyond. And boy, is there a lot of death. In fact, the last five songs on the album could all be about that very same thing. Songs like “Gallows” are hard to listen to and not also think about death; especially when lyrics like “You made a passionate offering: kill yourself.” The very dark synth and chanted “oohs” that begin the song leave the atmosphere bleak at best.

While “Gallows” looks at death in a dark but passive way, “The Passerby” makes death out to be something violent and unpredictable. Turner’s vocals are always smooth as can be, but when his band members join in, the group vocals are shouts, almost direct challenges to the listener. “Human” is even scarier, then, with Turner’s voice notably absent and a notable exchange of questions and answers, with the one who asks clearly in control of the power.

Darkness takes more form than just death, though. “Modern Youth,” despite its somewhat sunny-sounding name, is all about feeling yourself growing old, and the band’s signature dark-electronic sound adds both urgency and bleakness to Turner’s vocals.

One of the greatest strengths of Isolator is its firm grasp of hooks. Cygnets were wise to choose “Sick Device” as the album’s first single—it slowly layers on new electronic sounds, and the repetition of lines like “Love is a sick device” and “Did I forget to mention?” mean it won’t be leaving your head any time soon. Even more effective is “Girlfriends,” a song about a clearly depraved man who is attracted to “a girl who wants to be with girls.” No matter what, and despite his acknowledgment that he has no chance, still he lusts, repeating “I could be your boyfriend, let me be your boyfriend” to the point where he wishes he could change his gender. It’s very dark subject matter but also one of the catchiest songs on record.

Cygnets’ flurry of activity in the last three years seems insane, but Isolator proves that the band shows no sign of losing touch or running out of steam. They’re not going anywhere, and the electronic music scene is all the richer for it.

Top Tracks: “Sick Device”; “Girlfriends”; “The Passerby”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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