Illuminea - Out of Our Mouths
Record Label: High Two Recordings
Release Date: August 21, 2007
The Philadelphia based chamber-pop septet Illuminea are a modern day version of the ‘80s Dream Academy. Their music is mildly whisked with spot on harmonies and vocals that have an ethereal appearance and mellow tones which are reminiscent of Arcade Fire, The Polyphonic Spree, and Pere Ubu. Illuminea’s sophomore album Out of Our Mouths, produced by Joel Hamilton (Tom Waits, Sparklehorse) and Illuminea is easy listening music that ropes in pop/rock elements with orchestral arrangements. Out of Our Mouths is the follow up to the band’s self-released debut album Nightlight from 2004, and it comes out at a time when chamber-pop artists like Rasputina are on the rise and carving out a niche for themselves in the global music market.
Band members Pete Angevine (drums, percussion), Jen Appel (vocals, guitar), Minna Choi (vocals, keyboards), Maura DiBerardinis (violin, backup vocals), Marc Alan Goodman (vocals, guitar), Tim Nelson (electric bass, backup vocals), and Matthew Stein (contrabass) are joined by a long list of additional musicians which includes sousaphone player Jimmy Parker, harpist Zeena Parkins, and a number of woodwind, string, and percussion players. What is intriguing about Illuminea’s music is that even as a seven-piece assembly, they keep their melodies sparse, so individual instrument parts are prevalent and resonate with authentic clarity. The band is very conservative about producing phat dense intervals and they really keep their melodic movements slender. The vocals are also very concentrated focusing on one voice for each song whether its Goodman, Choi, or Appel singing lead, while the vocal harmonies poach the melodies with soft, angelic inflections. It’s a tradition which European artists follow dividing the lead vocals by gender and alternating the order of the songs on the album between male and female lead vocals.
Some specifics about the album are the acoustic-pop aspects designing tracks like “Living in Sin,” “Build Your Own,’ and “In Retrospect” have a smoothness reflective of Matt Costa and Sarah McLachlin. The jangly-pop rhythms of “Homewrecker” have dance-club beats and squirts of synth effects that recall of Arcade Fire. The swirling cascades generated by the violin arrangements in “Sugaring’ uphold the vocals which accelerate to a massive climax and then wilt away on the outro. The dramatic sweeps and intense guitar surges on “Sleep It Off” are akin to Evanescence, and the warm, mellow, velvety textures of “To Lose You As a Friend” and “New Walk” have an easy rolling drift liken to Dream Academy. The chamber-pop acoustics and stylizing on “Done By Hand” build density in the movements and chunky rhythms which alternate with the slim melodic sequences. The harmonies softy luge along “I Waited Too Long to Tell You How I Feel” preening a gentleness relatable to The Phoenix Foundation, while the title track has a classic chamber-pop cadence inducing a lullaby sway with delicate harp interludes and lightly billowing horns and violins. The final track “I Can’t Wait” infuses classic piano strolls along shivering rhythms, whispering strings, and casual horn blasts. The music is formal and yet approachable, it’s classic and contemporary, and optimistic as well as lamenting. The band’s duality adds to their intrigue.
Formed in 2004 by founding members Jen Appel and Marc Alan Goodman, Illuminea have built up to a seven-unit band today. As much as their music can be related to chamber-pop bands like Rasputina, The Polyphonic Spree, and Arcade Fire, there is a deep sense that Illuminea’s music represents their own creative output and not a copy of other artists. They are fortunate that they arose at a time when chamber-pop music is being embraced, but more than that, Illuminea make music for a burgeoning generation of music fans to attach to and enjoy.
great review. this is a great record, and i'd recommend it to anybody who likes music.
as a side note, I'm reasonably sure illuminea started before 2004, when they were called illumina. i think it used to be just marc and jen but then more people joined. so yeah.
great to see this band on this site.