Album Review: Gregory Alan Isakov – Evening Machines

Out this Friday via Dualtone Records, Evening Machines is like a trip to the spa for your ears. 

Colorado-based indie-folk artist Gregory Alan Isakov has released his newest masterpiece in the shape of Evening Machines. Its dark and eerie folk-rock attitude with airy vocals is the very definition of addictive music.

What’s interesting is that when he’s not writing music for your soul, Gregory is a full-time farmer who sells vegetable seeds and grows various market crops on his three-acre farm. “I switch gears a lot,” he says. “I wake up really early in the growing season, and then in the winters, I’m up all night. I’m constantly moving back and forth.”

Isakov had an easier time balancing his two passions while making his fourth full-length studio album, Evening Machines. In between farm duties, the multi-instrumentalist wrote and recorded in a studio housed in a barn on his property. Like the farm, this studio has a communal atmosphere, filled with instruments and gear stored there by musician friends—gear Isakov always leaves on, just in case inspiration strikes.

“Sometimes I couldn’t sleep, so I’d walk into the studio and work really hard into the night,” he says. “A lot of times I would find myself in the light of all these VU meters and the tape machine glow, so that’s where the title came from. I recorded mostly at night, when I wasn’t working in the gardens. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter, morning or afternoon, this music always feels like evening to me.”

There isn’t a time or place where you can’t play these tracks – whether you’re driving down the highway and your thoughts drifting into space, or you’re putting on some music for date night. You can’t listen to this album and not feel completely at peace.

Hushed acoustic guitar and sparse piano combine for a moody atmosphere that’s amplified by a few heavy embellishments: distant electric guitars, keyboards, pedal steel, saw, percussion, strings, banjo, and some electronic drums.

Album opener Berth, which Isakov wrote and recorded during an all-night session, beautifully starts the journey of the record. The original version of the song was 12 minutes long—and it wasn’t until Isakov and his brother, Ilan Isakov, started editing and cutting verses that the former realized Berth was “an immigration song, about landing in this country and throughout time”—something he knew well, as a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, who moved to the U.S. as a child.

His soft vocals are especially beautiful on Powder. It picks up heavily on the moody side of the album, with hints of violins here and there painting a magnificent picture. Similar on the moodiness, but much heavier and darker is Was I Just Another One. Lower on the vocals and simply backed by an acoustic guitar and a bit of a haunting soundscape this song feels like sitting on a hill in the early morning hours, staring off into the distance.

Some tracks have more of a folk influence than others, one of them is dark, Dark, Dark which is almost country-like but in an old-school, retrospective kind of way that makes it endearing and familiar sounding.

Album closer Wings In All Black finds a folky, signature-Isakov finale to a stellar record. It will almost make a little upset tht it’s all over, but then there’s always that repeat button, isn’t there?

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