Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Declan McKenna – Isombard

Let’s play indie-pop touchstone bingo!


Katie Gill: Declan McKenna is desperately doing his best Phoenix despite his bizarre way of pronouncing “run.” Apparently this song made it into a FIFA game, judging by the Youtube comment section, which is honestly the last place I’d expect to see something so blatantly trying to be indie/alternative.

Alfred Soto: I’m not encouraged by an 18-year-old mimicking Phoenix and using that keyboard sound. Like most youthful efforts, it gets by on enthusiasm and reveling in formalism: he wants to show how many tricks he’s learned.

Iain Mew: I know that as a country we’re at a place where it was a massive deal for Gary Lineker to dare to point out that demonising individual child refugees is fucked up, but it’s still a bit odd to see this song talked up on the Sound of 2017 site and elsewhere for its social consciousness. Its lyrics are eliptical enough that it’s hard to pin down even with clues, and if a lack of clarity is meant to be deliberate it doesn’t exactly come across. Much of that, though, is the the way the runaway chorus dominates, and what McKenna loses in making a point he gains in musical force. He’s the nominee who most sounds like they could be in Sound of 2005, but he’s picked out all the best bits — the jerky Maxïmo Park keyboards and Bloc Party guitars are particularly well done.

Crystal Leww: I guess there’s the lasting influence of The Arctic Monkeys, but The Arctic Monkeys were always a lot more funny about it all.

A.J. Cohn: McKenna described “Isombard” as commentary on “this right wing Fox News-type TV presenter.” And indeed, this the chorus offers a pretty sharp jab at the sort of advice that conservative talking heads have to offer: “If you can’t walk then run” is just about as impossible to follow as the dictum to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps. Unfortunately, this song doesn’t have any further points to make and so falls flat.

Hannah Jocelyn: My initial blurb went something like “Crying + Strokes + Car Seat Headrest = not bad!” Looking at the lyrics, as well as the lyrics to some of Declan’s other songs (including first single “Brazil” and the absolutely gorgeous ballad “Paracetamol”), made me realize that he deserved much more than just simple music math. This isn’t as emotional as the latter, but it’s musically as interesting as either song, the aesthetic of a lo-fi punk band combined with the polish of a mainstream rock band. There’s some pretty interesting (if difficult to pick out) lyrical content going on too, critiquing the paranoia of the American right-wing – which, needless to say, is a critique about to become all the more necessary. Lyrics aside, the song really comes to life during the last minute, with the wild energy that I’ve missed from music in general over the past year. My math at the beginning still sounds accurate to me, but if Declan continues to develop both the poppy and political sides of his persona, he can have something pretty incredible in store. 

Scott Mildenhall: If you’re going to give your song a false ending, you better make sure it merits it. “Bernadette” this isn’t. What it is, or sounds like, is Blossoms channelling early Vampire Weekend while losing their grasp on pop. Is the way that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere the political comment it’s said to contain?

Mo Kim: McKenna has described this as a song about the right hand-waving political violence away, but his throaty register renders “If you can’t walk then run!” something double-edged, both petty excuse and urgent plea. His influences are as pointed as his delivery; those ’80s synth melodies toe a fine line between nostalgic cheer and church cult horror. In this way “Isombard” resonates most as a study in dualities, the same sentiments taking on vastly different affects and meanings depending on whose mouths they come out of. The effect is unsettling, even more so considering McKenna’s ear for packaging these ideas in shimmery hooks: either way, it’s chilling.

Ramzi Awn: As with anything in life, success depends on what your objectives are. If making the Gossip Girl soundtrack is one of them, Declan McKenna’s in. If you want to serve as the background music for somebody’s first fuck at Vassar College, it’s a no-brainer. If you want more plays, you’re out. Auf Wiedersehen.  

Micha Cavaseno: *e-mails this young man’s manager* DREWWWWW! Dude, need another link. You accidently sent me a Mac Demarco song mislabeled. I wanna hear your new artist dude. Love the bad fake baroque orchestration though, that whole like ‘chamber pop’ aesthetic TOTALLY isn’t played out at all. Like there’s no harmonies or melodies here at all, I think Mac’s losing it. Shit sounds like someone trying to use hearing Van Dyke Parks as being a placeholder for good songwriting! Anyway, I also have a line on some good Adderall, hit me up at the next *redacted* show! P.S. Love the kid, but isn’t there like 400 of this kid in LA alone? Hopefully the music stands out right? ;D

Madeleine Lee: Some scraps from the indie landfill are strong enough to resist decomposition, and they come together here to make a serviceable anthemic-sounding tune. The synths jangle, the snare drum snaps, and the chorus is a rush that you could get lost in if you wanted to, which, eh.

Reader average: [4] (1 vote)

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2 Responses to “Declan McKenna – Isombard”

  1. This has all the political weight you’d expect from someone who made a song criticizing the World Cup, than ended up on the FIFA soundtrack. Also, he tweeted that it was supposed to be called Isambard, but he didn’t bother to google the right spelling, so “the mistake just stuck”.
    At least this song itself is kind of ok, while “Brazil” just sounds like he watched a John Oliver video and wrote a song about it in fifteen minutes.

  2. Could you guys review Car Seat Headrest’s “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”?