Spangle call Lilli line: ISOLATION

When news first broke that Spangle call Lilli line were recording a "Gothic classical album" of "salon music", my first reaction was, "What the hell is ‘Gothic classical music’?"

That’s my classical training getting in the way — there is no such thing as "Gothic classical". There’s Romantic, modern, Baroque, Medieval and Classical (as in 18th century), but Gothic? And "salon music" is just as meaningless, unless "salon" is supposed to be "chamber".

I had to listen to this album when it was released just to figure out what the band meant. As it turns out, "Gothic classical" is actually French impressionist music from the early 20th Century, and ISOLATION does a beautiful job weaving the hazy harmonic language of Erik Satie and Claude Debussy into the band’s usual dreamy pop.

Spangle call Lilli line is a band easy to admire, although I personally have never made the leap to becoming an advocate. Otsubo Kana has a gorgeous voice, and the trio do a fine job mixing electronics with guitars. An obvious RIYL band for any Cocteau Twins fan.

ISOLATION, however, ups the proverbial ante. Guest pianist Miyazawa Keiko puts an indelible stamp on the album, channeling Debussy’s Clair de Lune on "Inc." and "roam in octave". On "Russian Gothic bold&qout;, she brings the Asian influence on Debussy’s music full circle with melodic flourishes rerouted from Indonesia through France.

Miyazawa practically dominates the first half of the album, while on the second half, the band’s usual atmospheric sound takes over.

"quiet warp" lives up to its title, feeling both propulsive and expansive. "short films" trades the piano for violin and cello, while "an" concludes the album with a simplicity so effortless, it’s almost criminal.

Spangle call Lilli line released two albums in 2008 — ISOLATION and PURPLE. The latter is more typical of what the band would release, and it contained a less organic version of "roam in octave" (abbreviated to "rio".) Sorry to say, ISOLATION was too much of a distraction for me to give PURPLE much of a chance.

Miyazawa’s piano work may struck some listeners as lounge jazz, but what they’re really hearing is the influence of modern composers on jazz musicians. Back then, Duke Ellington and George Gerswin weren’t unfamiliar with the work of Anton Webern and Igor Stravinsky. (Read Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise for a more thorough account.)

In a way, Spangle call Lilli line stepped back in time to draw from those same influences. I had no idea what to expect from "Gothic classical", but I’m very glad it turned out the way it did.