Aisles is a six piece Chilean prog band, who crept onto people's radar in 2013 through the release of their stunning third album 4:45 AM (see review), its concept being to evoke the feelings and fears of being awake at this pre-dawn hour.
Three years on and the band is taking concept albums to an even more cosmic level through Hawaii, an immense sci-fi-themed collection of compositions and songs.
The story is set on Earth in the year 2300, where life is no longer sustainable, but scientists, engineers and artists have embarked on a secret project where a series of space stations is enabling survival in space.
Here begins a new era and the two albums take us on a full-on, cosmic odyssey to encounter some of these newly created worlds.
We have lift-off with The Poet Pts 1 and The Poet Pts 2, the first instalment rattling off to a brisk start with a guitar and keys-led intro before it eases back into a floating holding pattern which seems to linger in airspace, Sebastian Vergara's ethereal voice joined by gentle vocal harmonies before it launches off again into a heavier, guitar-drenched groove. There are increasingly jagged guitars and heavy keys that push the track further into the outer limits.
Aisles certainly know how to mix up their aural palette as The Poet II is a much shorter and sombre proposition. Vergara's voice and Juan Pablo Gaete's sparse keyboards start the song before it builds, additional voices and guitars gradually introduced.
The cosmic cocktail continues with an explosion at the start of Year Zero, which morphs into a lilting song full of jangling guitars, a laid-back techno beat and upfront piano.
Upside Down has an expressive piano introduction and soaring vocals which continue to rise and fall throughout the song, a large resonant guitar solo making it fly even higher during its middle section.
Bringing CD1 to a close is Hawaii's longest track, CH-7, a veritable journey into the outer realms, that features an insistent recurring echoing guitar motif to good effect behind Vergera's sombre vocals. The direction of the piece turns around midway, going towards a more stately rhythm structure over which guitars and keys work closely together, invoking some delicious melodies and licks, before building to a huge, throbbing, slightly chaotic climax.
CD2 begins with the much gentler Terra, its long acoustic guitar passages giving way to some interesting vocal effects before the band goes into choral mode, repeating Terra over and over again, finishing with some spooky space-rock effects.
We are into Carl Sagan territory with the arrival of Pale Blue Dot that features a hypnotic choppy keyboard motif, and again a new course is set as the tempo falls away then rebuilds along a much rockier space path.
Nostalgia provides a less intense interlude, the band singing a lyric-less repeated line over a rising rhythm and keyboards that suddenly explode then disappear.
For sheer invention, Club Hawaii is the deal-clincher. Here's the space station with all the attractions including “the smell of the ocean”, as the spoken intro reveals, as well as the following instruction: “Guests visiting the upper levels are reminded to keep an open mind.”
It's an intoxicating mix of other-worldly delights where the band members really stretch their vocal chops and then deliver a huge maelstrom of anguished vocals and dissonant instrumentation.
Then, the journey returns to some plaintive vocals and piano on the balladic Falling and it rounds off with Into The Probe, again with an under-stated melancholy guitar underpinning Vergara's mournful voice.
The voyage ends with an intermittent beep which finally fades out. Is this a happy ending? The jury is definitely out on that.
You cannot fault Aisles for their ambition in creating an album that so skilfully invokes parallel universes over which man appears to have lost his true path.
Some of these haunting songs will certainly feature during their rescheduled European tour, starting in Belgium on Friday (21 October), which also takes in three Netherlands dates, one in France and one in London. Don't miss them. It could be quite an adventure.
**** Alison Reijman
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