To say that Ivan Ink ‘n’ Isa is an attempt for one of its components, namely Isabella Summers of Florence and The Machine fame, no less, to come out of the shadow of the her main project is kind of degrading. After all, Summers has a lot of the credit for writing the songs behind the woman herself as it is, so her craft is already set in stone as formidable, even if it may be, now, in strictly a mainstream sense. But this project seems more attuned to the complexities of heart and mind that are more often drowned out by the warblings of Ms. Welch in her day job. Combining her songwriting and production talents with the soft yet whisky-soaked drawl of Oliver Briggs of Ivan Ink ‘n’ Pen for this EP is certainly a shrewd move in terms of displaying her talents even further, especially as this initial four track offering manages to find a similar balance for Summers as that of the ‘Machine’ part of The Other Act.
Opening with the tumbleweed blow of ’Lover’s Kiss’ sets the new scene appropriately – it’s laden with dramatic vocal overtures of an almost shanty like tale before slowly collapsing into a Trentemoller style kick of electronica, smothered by swathes of reverberated noise, Morricone strings and chimes and soft patter of errant electronic footsteps. The simplified, hip-hop swagger of ‘Standing On A Hill’ only emphasises the duo’s apparent love for the alternative, despite the slightly grating omnipotence of the strings and harps becoming a bit more apparent than necessary – they casually waft their presence around Briggs’ choral moans of “save this town for a rainy day” without adding a whole lot to the seemingly downtrodden triumph of the mix.
‘Caught In Symmetry’, however, reaffirms that there is no need for any rehashing of such techniques – it’s sobering, two chord melodies twinned with Briggs’ casual, serenading duet with the fictional vocal of ‘Lucy Lovebird’ lead you down a frighteningly surreal path of faintly recognisable choruses before collapsing on a bridge of Zero Seven style jazzy melodies and strained vocals, only picking themselves up to victoriously struggle to the end of the song’s journey. Closing with the smoky, chanson-style double-bass and steel guitars of ‘Silver or Lead’ is a potent confirmation of their intent – Ivan Ink ‘n’ Isa is certainly not hindered by preconceptions. It thrives on the darker side of that which many would consider to be an immediate art form – put quite simply, it is outstandingly well thought out, dark pop music.
Those aforementioned string references are the only comparative point for the duo’s work with Summer’s other notables, but this EP stands on its own merits without the need of flaunting a CV in anyone’s face. The only thing that may well divide opinion here is Briggs’ voice – it is one that could leave a Marmitey taste for many. But that would be a petty gripe against a work of extremely accomplished songwriting and ambitious production. If they are content in living in this gloomy setting they so potently create, then the shadow may lift sooner rather than later.