Spangle call Lilli line told me in an interview a few years ago that their next album will be something that challenges the listener and explores new territory. They lived up to what they said.
Heard within the first couple of bars of Isolation, the Japanese post-rock trio's latest album, is a new sound for SCLL—the grand piano. Until now they created their long, flowing songs mostly with the standard rock instruments: electric guitar and bass, synthesizers and drums. In Isolation, SCLL has gone acoustic. And the piano, played by a woman named Keiko Miyazawa, is a constant presence in this album, weaving melodies and accompanying Kana Otsubo's vocals. Another Ms. Miyazawa (sisters?), Hiromi Miyazawa, plays the violin and cello.
Spangle call Lilli line and acoustic mix well. The first song, “Inc.”, which is just the piano and Otsubo's singing, evokes jazz at a hotel lounge somewhere; mixed in is the noise of a bar crowd. Except this is hotel lounge in some parallel universe, where, playing unnoticed at the keyboards is a Blue Note jazz great. “Quiet Song” a few tracks later, is a longish song that slowly builds to a beautiful climax, like all those old tunes in albums like Or and Nanae, but a companion to the crescendo is, again, the piano. Strings are a flourish to the melody of the tune “Short Films”. And so goes the 37 minutes of Isolation, a short album that points to new doors of possibilities for pop.
This isn't actually the first acoustic SCLL. Their only live album, 68scll, featured a string section, which infused their classics like “Nano” and “Super Star” with even more sonic color. The trio's compositions already covered a wide expanse musically; it made sense to add to their depth with more instruments. But even with these new sounds, it's still obvious that what you are listening to is Spangle call Lilli line. At the interview, the band said their sound's true essence is the singing voice of Otsubo, and that indeed identifies the music as SCLL. It's that soft, clear voice that's a constant in SCLL albums, flowing through the jungle of their sound colors.
An unexpected album that adds a new dimension to SCLL, Isolation is my favorite album so far in 2008.
To add to the surprises, I've just found out that Spangle call Lilli line isn't done! They're releasing a second album in November, called Purple, and it and Isolation will mark their decade as a band. They said in their website that one of the two albums is supposed to evoke the feel of an old black-and-white movie. I assume that's Isolation. They also say that one album will come as a big surprise to old SCLL fans. I'm assuming again that this also refers to Isolation, but I'm very much looking forward to listening to Purple to find out.