Coldest Queen is available at:
2nd September, 2015
Pop; Alternative; Folk; Swing
The E.P. The Coldest Queen is available from:
26th September, 2015
Like You Do
Get You Excited Does He?
If You Know How
WHEN it comes to assessing Issimo…
it is hard to know how to charcaterise them. It is near-impossible to define and label them: the duo has such a reverent and fascinating style of music; they flirt with genres and decades- melting it all in a delicious pan of bubbling musical bliss. Before I investigate the Yorkshire-based two-some some more, a few points are to be raised: that which concerns duos and their variability; the unsigned acts in the U.K.; the importance of music diversity. When it comes to duos in the U.K., we have a fair smattering of available varieties: from your Electro.-Pop champions and Folk-Pop purveyors; across your Hard-Rock hitters and Alternative flavours. A lot of attention has surrounded Rock/Alternative duos this year. Given the success of the likes of Royal Blood, a few like-minded duos are coming through. In the north you have acolytes Knuckle and Huxtable (Scotland): two duos that play that similar sound; the fierce and hook-laden magic. The hirsute duos do a good job of summoning-up that Royal Blood swagger and confidence- two headline acts of the future. I see a lot of Hard-Rock/Alternative duos come out of the north: in the south (and Brighton, where Royal Blood hail) there are fewer examples; in London there aren’t quite as many of these duos- the capital and south house differently-minded two-somes. What London does well is house Electro.-Pop and Folk duos. Having been exposed to Ivy & Gold (Electrro.-Pop) and Gypsyfingers (Folk/Alternative) you get a different experience and sound- no less impressive and stunning than their northern contemporaries. London has quite a mix of duos: I have reviewed Them & Us (Dub-Step-cum-Electronic) and Greenfield and Conder (Pop/Soul) – a lot of variety and diversity can be sought. Elsewhere, you get some Sunshine-Pop and Indie duos; depending on your tastes, there is something for you. What I find with most duos is their particular sound: they have a very defined and particular style. Not to say they are rigid, yet they are not as experimental and wide-ranging as fellow bands and solo acts. With any musician it is important to have consistency and personality- so you come across as original and personable- but it is vital to have some elasticity and adventure- otherwise it is easy to stagnate and stall. The aforementioned duos work well within their remit and borders; they have enough vitality and talent- without the need to cross-pollinate and fuse genres. I always love when a duo goes that bit further: they retain a distinct sound, yet understand the importance of surprise and freshness. Issimo are a duo that makes these wishes a necessity: their back catalogue shows them switch genres and styles; they are as comfortable turning-in ’40s-influenced Swing as they are modern-day Pop. A tight-knit and passionate duo; let me introduce them to you:
“Unique songwriter duo Marc Otway and Abi Uttley, backed by the ISSIMITES make up the funky pop band ISSIMO. Branded as Yorkshires answer to “The Scissor Sisters” they take their influences from an eclectic range of genres, reggae, ska and even latin, and write thematic pop songs, that are lyrically driven and rhythmically charged. They will start an iTunes Pre-order Tour from 1st September for their Debut EP “The Coldest Queen”. The music video/short film, fan funded via Kickstarter, by the same name will also be on VEVO from the 2nd Sep.
In their short history ISSIMO have already brought their infectious vibes to Latitude Festival, Cornbury Festival, Beatherder festival and Bingley Music Live to name just a few.
Debut E.P “The Coldest Queen” is set to be released 26th September; it includes their debut single “If You Know How”.
What I love about Issimo is their optimism and upbeat: few of their tracks are introspectively sad and emotive. They are such a colourful and hypnotic act, it is impossible not to adore them- their latest work is no exception. Uttley and Otway are a duo that has a unique connection and friendship: their songwriting and simpatico is scintillating; their songwriting is assured and quirky; dramatic and catchy- they are masters of big hooks and bold choruses; stunning vocals and exceptional musicianship. A lot of duos tend to focus too wholly on vocals or composition- one side of things is either undeveloped or lacking. The Hard-Rock/Alternative acts go for power and pace- whilst their lyrics may be simplistic and the vocals too defined- whereas the Electro.-Pop/Folk acts tend to negate compositional complexity. The lovelies of Yorkshire’s Issimo have all corners covered: their compositions are expert and nuanced; the vocals always compelling and ear-catching- the lyrics are clever and humorous (they love to pen a witty tale!). Issimo are unsigned and free-spirited at the moment: they are a duo that deserves a label endorsement; a P.R. company behind them. Knowing quite a few down south, it seems logical Issimo should be on their radar- hopefully time will change this. Few acts work harder than Issimo: their consistent quality and wonderful personalities seduce and captivate crowds; their latest offerings are among their very best. They are self-sufficient and hard-working, yet they deserve a record label/company backing: it would help fund and aid their music; get their name spread wider across the U.K. – take the duo overseas. With an ear for American-sounding music- they have Country tinges and Americana shades- they seem likely to play the U.S. – I could well see them in Tennessee, New York and L.A.; taking their brand across the land. I am sure 2016 will see them transcend to the sights of P.R. companies afar; get them involved in some rather exciting projects- see them get the rewards they deserve. All of this aside, it brings us neatly- if not quite succinctly- to the current-days Issimo. A few months ago, they started a Kickstarter campaign: to get their E.P. The Coldest Queen funded. That E.P. is available to buy (on iTunes) and was accompanied by a promotional video- funded by their fans via the campaign. The Coldest Queen short film featured a full cast and great production values; an elaborate plot and some wonderful scenes- sort of Game of Thrones mixed with a historical epic. The E.P.’s lead-off single (and closing track) If You Know How has been released; I have been struck by the E.P. title track- one of the duo’s most memorable and mesmeric numbers.
Before coming to their current music- and reviewing Coldest Queen– I am motivated to look back; see how the duo has changed and whether they have altered their sound that much.
Carpe Diem is one of the duo’s earliest numbers (and does not feature on their new E.P.); it shows how strong they were from the start- and how confident everything sounds. A springing and upbeat introduction leads to Otway’s lead vocal. There are Reggae and Ska elements to the song; it has a summer-time vibe and a real swing- Uttley comes in to provide backing and support. The lyrics look at life and its realities; returning to a “clean slate”. The production is crisp and clean to allow the notes and instruments to resonate and impress. From start to end the song keeps kicking and moving: that endless sense of movement makes it such a wonderful track. With little Jazz elements and Pop undertones it is such a wealthy and fertile track- one that keeps you coming back. The infectious byplay between Uttley and Otway brings a smile to your face. Swaying and parping trumpet notes give the song a sizzling grandeur and smile- few modern acts have produced anything like this. Charming and filled with joy, it is a song that implores upbeat and resolve- ensure whatever life throws at you; you get back on your feet and face it. A track that means a lot to the duo, it is a fan favourite and a great track to hear live- showing how strong the two were in their earliest days.
Pretty Simple is another non-E.P. track and early cut: like Carpe Diem it has Reggae and Ska openings. Otway takes the lead again and lets his soulful and stunning tones lead. Uttley comes in with a beautiful and soothing vocal- acting as Otway’s partner and other half. Our hero is adapting to what the girl wants; he is changing to make things simple or complex- the heroine does not like what is unfamiliar. The new and fresh can be thrilling- as he says- yet our heroine is not impressed. The boy is being too smart and cock-sure; it cuts no mustard with our heroine. That need to simplify and be himself; that is the message that comes throw- back by rampant and effusive brass. The connection between the two is stunning and intuitive: each knows their role and combines wonderfully; weaving their vocals inside one another- creating such a harmonious and catchy number. Designed to get crowds single and feet tapping, it is a deliberately simple song- one that is quotable and memorable to the extreme. With similar shades to Carpe Diem– the subject matter changes yet the composition has similarities- Issimo showed consistency and huge passion here.
If You Know How was originally recorded a year ago; it features on the band’s The Coldest Queen– a chance for new fans to hear it. I became aware of this song a year ago, and it is shows another great step for the band. Keeping their core sound and styles firm, it sees Otway up front again- being propelled by a serene and stomping compositional blend. His girl does not love him deeply enough; there is some doubt and hesitations- our man is seduced by her smile and twinkling eyes. Uttley comes into the background to support the chorus; the composition remains tender and rushing- never impeded on the mood and encroaching too much. A funky and addictive slice, Issimo demonstrate how catchy their music is- once more creating something that remains firmly in the brain. Our heroine wants her man to read between the lines; sing a song “and take my hand”- come closer and surrender. Those smiles and optimistic vibes reign throughout the track: the chorus is perhaps the most insatiable and additive they have ever penned. If You Know How sits naturally on The Coldest Queen: with the exception of a couple of numbers, the E.P. culls songs from last year- they are sit alongside one another easily and comfortably.
Like You Do is the E.P.’s lead track and shows Uttley taking the lead here: her smoky and smooth voice drips and pours honey over the opening moments. Soul-infused and stunning, you get caught in her web. The tone has some Jazz and Swing elements- sourcing its core from ‘30s and ‘40s musicians- to create something retro and modern at the same time. Uttley does not need to fake her voice or adapt it: throughout, she keeps her unique and powerful voice her own- letting it swim and glide inside the composition. Our heroine’s hero is casting a spell: whether it is the rhythm or the words (beating to the rhythm of his heart); it is causing effects and desire. That passion and longing comes through in the track: again you get a very catchy and bold chorus; something sassy and vampish- the composition is intricate and clever; stepping and dancing alongside the vocal. Acting as an aural character, you get the idea of the duo (Uttley and her man) dancing and swaying: you are drawn into the song and imagine what is taking place; two young lovers casting glances alongside a packed hall/ballroom- as the hero is centre stage and under the spotlight.
Because the new E.P. contains a mix of brand-new and older tracks, you might expect some dislocation and split: each track fuses perfectly and nothing seems out of place. Coldest Queen shows a new side to the duo, yet is a natural step- it does not deviate too far and it is good to see Uttley take some lead vocals. Whereas Otway dominated vocals on earlier cuts, the switch means the E.P. is balanced in that sense- you get different perspectives and a nice mixture of vocal sounds. Whereas Otway has a soulful and Jazz-influenced sound, Uttley is more Pop and Soul-orientated: her power and sexiness defines the tracks she leads. It is when the two combine you perhaps get the biggest hit: the duo have a clear affection and work wonderfully with each other; both the talented vocalists have their own style and shades- blending magnificently when the tracks call for it. Issimo are expanding their sounds and diversifying with each new release. Whereas their 2014 work had more Reggae and Ska touches, Coldest Queen suggests something a little different and darker- they keep the sunshine in there but show they can be effective when taking the mood down. It means the duo have a lot of options in their future: they do not just stick with one idea and genre; they like to keep things unexpected and mobile- changing their themes and songs when needed. The Coldest Queen is a unification of their past and current agendas: what you get is unilaterally brilliant songwriting and bold compositions; stunning and awe-struck vocals- songs that are catchy and compelling; music that begs you to keep coming back for more.
Coldest Queen is their E.P.’s newest (full-length) cut: something fresh to many ears- a song I was keen to investigate. The track begins with a trickling and dancing electronic underpinning: supported by swaggering and drunken brass- it is actually quite composed but has a merriment and sway to its movements- and you get a fantastic introduction. Already you are projecting images and possibilities- based on the song’s title- and wondering what will come next. The first words take you into the mystical and historical: our heroine is on the microphone and lets her voice survey the land and scenes. The song’s heroine is instantly in the picture: surrounded by her eager-to-please servants, there is a heady and fantastical scene set- one you are sucked into and keen to explore more. Uttley’s vocal is quite smooth and levelled at the first stage: letting her words clearly ring, there is power and resonance. There are volatile winds and a storm brewing perhaps: right from a few lyrics, you get a vivid picture in your head; start to predict where our travels may take us. In terms of vocal-and-composition sound, I get embers of Amy Winehouse and Adele: Uttley’s voice is Blues and Soul-infused; dripping with emotion and potency- and backed against those stunning horns and evocative undertow- you get something both classic and contemporary. The servants are kneeling to the ground- the ground “that she made”- and there seems to be trouble and heartache imminent- you get a sense of danger and knife-edge here. It is impossible not to be seduced and entranced by the track- the lead-off track on the E.P. – as it is both immediate and layered. The composition has a nice and straight-ahead electronic (either piano or guitar) twinkle that adds some mystique and magic. That brass work topples back and forth: the two in combination create a psychotropic and lush whole; something that goes straight to your brain. With Uttley’s vocal commanding and holding court- the fantastic composition supporting her every step- you are powerless to resist. Being Issimo, you get humour among the pathos and hardships: the servants are staying away from the stocks; keen not to be beheaded- the lines are delivered with a cheeky wink and smile. This cold queen has eyes that “turn green”: when they do, her armies are summoned to cause damage and war- she is a pantomime villain and arch baddie; someone you do not want to double-cross. As the song continues its plight, that brass wave carries everything along: our vocal heroine keeps her voice stunning and focused- ensuring each word and line is delivered with gusto. The cold queen will reign supreme- “if you believe the bluff”- and has her kingdom at her feet. The chorus is a typical slice of Issimo gold: simple and effective, it is a big and uplifting beauty- something that radiates and strikes; gets you singing along. Past the 2:00 you get a musical breakdown: the vocal steps aside (briefly) and the instruments unleash a storm- adding more vividity and mystery to the fold. At first it is those brass notes that compel and overwhelm- being at their most eager and anxious best- but the percussion starts to come into its own- keeping things tight and hard-hitting; eliciting quite a punch itself. Few acts are as effective when it comes to penning a colourful composition: each Issimo number is packed with life and joy; stunning details and a great sense of joy. I have mentioned the likes of Winehouse and Adele- in the most complimentary and true way- and you get hints of a Mark Ronson-produced jam: the production and composition is exceptional and mesmeric; the vocal is such a beautiful thing. Whereas the duo usually looks at love and life’s realities; here they step out of a ‘comfort zone’: away from biography and reality, it is their first foray into science fiction and fantasy- they do not sound nervous or unnatural at all. Brilliantly confident and scene-setting, the song’s lyrics are hugely effective. Those cheeky brass notes- reminding me of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al– are part-carnival-part-conga- one would imagine the queen brushing her cape over the town; twirling with malevolent glee- scaring the townsfolk with her imperious glare. Being a fairly short song- it doesn’t even hit the three-minute mark- it packs a huge amount of wonder and nuance in. Issimo have always been intuitive when it comes to economy: they do not let songs linger or needlessly wander; they get their message and vibe across neatly- simultaneously leaving you wanting a little more. By the final embers of Coldest Queen– and that green-eyed and danger-laden chorus- you are hungry for a little extra- just see how the story progresses and ends.
Coldest Queen is The Coldest Queen’s opening salvo and most urgent track: the E.P. is choked with wonderful moments; this is my absolute favourite. It is a new and fresh song from the duo; one that will see the live crowds latching onto it- I can see it becoming a favourite of fans across the country. With Otway turning in a fantastic and rich composition- there is so much atmosphere and detail throughout- and Uttley at her vocal peak, it is a remarkable track from the duo. I have always loved Uttley’s voice- it can be sweet and sassy within the same syllable- but here she sounds utterly authoritative and sensual. With a magisterial and grand delivery, it is no short-sight to say she has Amy Winehouse’s gifts- without replicating her voice. Uttley is her own singer and artist, yet manages to steal focus with her incredible performance. I was impressed by how Issimo have ventured into fantasy territory: it shows another dimension to their songwriting and proves how adaptable and varied they are- sounding completely natural wherever their songs take them. An incredible and polished production allows the song to burnish and explode into life- it is perhaps the duo’s most impressive song to date. With so many new acts petering-out after a few songs; Issimo seem to grow and become more wondrous. In an E.P. that contains no weak or ineffective moments- everything is stunning and a joy to hear- Coldest Queen is the jewel in the crown- gleaming and dazzling for sure. Perhaps that wobbly-legged brass stays in the mind; maybe the whiskey-soaked vocal and sensuousness- perhaps the story as a whole. To me, everything comes together and balances: the composition drives the vocal; the vocal drives the players- everything slots together so comfortably. When you have heard the song once, you go straight back in to pick out little asides and notes- each new play reveals something new and unexpected. A triumphant cut from a consistently brilliant act.
Over the coming weeks- past the inconvenience of work- I will be reviewing and interviewing a range of different acts- predominantly female-led acts, it will be an interesting time. Issimo have always been in my sights; they are one of my favourite duos- they fully warrant some high-profile attention and acclaim. With each new song/release they grow in confidence and desire; they are one of this country’s most prosperous acts- make sure you watch them carefully. The Coldest Queen– the E.P. and Kickstarter campaign- took a lot of promotion and determination. Their fans and supporters came together to ensure they could record their music- the results speak for themselves. Coldest Queen shows so much drama and storyline; a tremendous and tight performance- it is one of the Yorkshire duo’s most complete and nuanced numbers. Perfect for any weather and situation, make sure you investigate it now- and pick-up The Coolest Queen E.P. The E.P. not only shows the hard work and passion that has gone into things; it also represents how much support Issimo has- it cannot be long until labels and P.R. bods are in-tune and on-board. It makes you wonder where they head next- after they have toured and promoted their E.P. – and what their feature moves might entail. I have always seen Issimo producing a wonderful and deep L.P.: something that shows them on full attack; expands their music and proves just what they can achieve. When spring and summer rolls back around, you can expect them to hit-up festivals and stages: get their warm and vivacious music to the masses; get the feet and arms waving in unison. I started the review by looking at the nature of duos and how they compose themselves: there is a lot of diversity out there; few acts have such an accomplished sound as Issimo. They are not musicians that wildly throw sounds together- in the hope they coalesce and make sense- but instead have such affection for music- they are keen to explore it in as much depth as possible. The Coldest Queen demonstrates these points fully: that wit and love-gone-wrong humour mixes with history and queens; the catchy hooks and bold choruses are matched with brassy music and stunning courtship- everything fizzes, flows and explodes. A thrill-ride from start to finish, you have to tip your hats to them- and wish them success for the future. I guess a lot of eyes and ears are trained to London and their musicians- it is where the majority of P.R. companies and labels seem to be based. Whether their telescope is trained to the north it is hard to say: it would be a shame to think the likes of Issimo are being overlooked. I would recommend Issimo get in touch with brands like Mystic Sons- who I mentioned in my previous review; they take care of Nina Schofield- and see if they will listen. That failing, there are ample others who would welcome the duo into their nest- Uttley and Otway are too good to be localised and confined to the north. They have played in London and the south, yet I can see them going a look further- I mentioned the likes of the U.S.; they would be at home here. Perhaps a bigger ill with solo acts there seems to be some form of limitation with duos: their music does not really exceed expectations and few are daring enough to really broaden their motifs. Coming back to Royal Blood, their debut album was met with applause and celebration (rightfully so). What I find lacking was that sonic range that could spell trouble for album two. The likes of The White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age- who the duo have taken hints from- succeeded because they are broad and emotional wide-ranging. Tying in some acoustic numbers and softer elements, their albums are more compelling and interesting. Royal Blood struck me as two one-dimensional and samey: the band had to stamp an identity, yet you wonder whether they could really stretch themselves- how long will the public embrace the same sound/songs on a second album? I worry they may just repeat their debut- with only a few tweaks and new diversions- thus risking losing their appeal and momentum. Perhaps it is just short-sighted nerves, yet duos (as do bands and solo acts) need to be more forward-thinking and agile- the consumer market demands new sounds and freshness. Issimo never stay still and are always looking to showcase something brand-spanking and vibrant- few of their songs sound alike. What separates them from the pack is their songwriting and vocal dynamics. Otway is the chief composer and is one of the most talented musicians on the current scene. Whether penning a guitar lick or a Jazz/Swing riot- via some tender piano lines and feet-kicking acoustic moments- he is masterful and accomplished. Uttley takes on the vocal majority and has sexiness and sensuality; plenty of smoke and tenderness- powerful and enflamed when the moment calls. The duo’s stunning lead, she possesses such a gorgeous and emotive voice: it allows Issimo to really spread their wings are write any song they please (knowing she can accommodate and nail it). The lyrics and stories are the most fascinating facet: the duo can write witty two-handers; they do slice-of-life stories and observations- perfectly capable of old-fashioned love and poetic utterances. It is these talents that will see them endure and succeed: they are still a new act and have already achieved so much- from award plaudits and festival dates to gaining armies of new fans. The fact they have managed to draw in so many new faces that prove they are a duo to take seriously- ensure they are not cloistered and exclusive to the northern crowds. The nights are drawing in and the days are getting colder and more unpredictable- we need something comforting and warming to soothe our souls. Off the back of a successful charge, the Bradford two-some are going to make future plans and seeing where they go next. They needn’t be nervous or uncertain, as they are an amazing and unique act- few come up to their lofty status. If you have not encountered the duo make sure you make up for lost time: they have a wide array of past songs to check; keep your eyes peeled in their direction. With so many musicians coming across too downbeat and limited, we need acts that buck the trend and bring life back to music. With that in mind…
SEEK this Bradford duo out.