Although this young duo has a lot yet to learn, they've already learned something.
Isle of Rhodes – Affirmation Caravan EP
Confidence can go a long way. Rising NYC outfit Isle of Rhodes is absolutely not lacking in this department: the self-described “hardest-hitting keyboard duo in NYC” wouldn’t apply such a statement to themselves if they had low self-esteem. Or perhaps this is just a facade? On their third release, the Affirmation Caravan EP, these two struggle to find their own sound, their music held back both by vocalist Robert Farren’s often complacent, unexaggerated voice as well as their blatant adaptation of their ancestors’ approaches. The music is by no means bad, as this young duo has a clue or two about how to light a fire under their listeners’ feet, but they often do so in a perplexing and inimitable manner.
Opener “Tic Toc” starts this brief EP on a very confusing note, both literally and perceptually. Jarring, wah-infused keyboards that recall the late 60s initiate this first track, gradually calming into the background under vocalist Robert Farren’s soothing voice. Although Farren’s subdued vocals suit the verses of “Tic Toc”, their hush oddly contrasts the chorus’ overdriven guitars. Even when Farren’s voice approaches higher pitches, or harsh growls during the final verse, he only shows restraint, failing to provide the music with the proper emotional kick it suggests and deserves.
Elsewhere, Farren’s voice better matches the music, but it’s still this outfit’s weak point. “Oceans” sees Farren harmonizing with another vocalist, likely female, during its chorus, a technique that bolsters his voice’s strength, yet doesn’t fully make up for its flaws. Instrumentally, the song occupies the same retro vibes as “Tic Toc”, but its tones feel warmer and more embracing. Really, though, all these songs look back in time: the moderate keyboard warbles of single “Islands”, probably this EP’s best track, shine with the dim gentleness of past eras’ soft rock, and the title track sounds like an odd hybrid of The White Album and The Doors.
Although Isle of Rhodes never conceal their influences, they do indeed make their own small mark with “Islands.” This tune boasts a chorus during which Farren’s voice, shrouded in reverb, briefly escapes its plaintive, reticent boundaries and matches the afflicting guitars. It’s a glimmer, an eclipse, of the band’s very own methods, a sign that, although this young duo has a lot yet to learn, they’ve already learned something.