Isis have a talent for melding elaborate shoegazer textures that are eloquent and haunting with a massive amount of force that is both crushing and beautiful. They are a pendulum that swings back and forth between the pristine passages of instrumental indie and the all-out fury of doom metal. So, it only makes sense then that if someone were to remix an Isis song, this subtlety and aggression dichotomy would need to be present in order for the song to succeed. On Oceanic: Remixes/Reinterpretations, this is just the case.
The two-disc set, which was originally released as a set of 12’’ EPs (except Tim Hecker’s second version of “Carry”), features twelve different artists completely reconstructing Isis tracks from their Oceanic album. Some of the artists do an incredible job of keeping alive Isis’s spirit of solace and rage, while others seem to simply create a distracting mess of electronic noise.
The first disc opens with Fennesz’s remake of “Weight.” While the original version builds tension with its strong drumming and subtle vocals, Fennesz decides to leave those out. Instead, he creates a track made up of feedback, electronic buzzing, and static that doesn’t seem to resemble the original in any way and is merely background ambiance. The next track “False Light (Carry Edit)” by Ayal Naor is much more successful in its remix thanks to the fact that Aaron Turner’s vocals, as well as drums and guitars are all in still in play. Naor has found a way to add extra revolving loops, creative flourishes, vocal stylings, and even more of a sense of beauty to the song’s bridge by adding female vocals. He ends his track with massive amounts of distortion and fuzz that only add to the heaviness.
The rest of the first disc can be split up like the first two tracks. The ones that fail are the ones like “Weight” that revolve too much around abstract noise and not enough around the foundation that Isis laid. Songs like Thomas Koner’s version of “Hym” with its choppy helicopter blade sounds, weird chanting, and fuzzy crinkle, and Teledubgnosis’s take on “Maritime” with its spacious airy backgrounds and remixed drums fall too much into avant-garde noise. On the other hand, tracks like James Plotkin’s “The Other” with its genius mixing of soft keys and delicate backings with Hatch’s deadly growls, and Mike Patton’s remix of “Maritime” with all of its added percussion, beatnik shuffle, high-pitched vocals, and eventual Middle Eastern space rock ending, keep alive the fire of Isis while adding new layers that truly do reinvent the songs.
The second disc continues this trend. The tracks that come up short are Tim Hecker’s second version of “Carry” with its echoing noises, and Desctructo Swarmbots’ “From: Sinking, To: Drowning” which is merely screechy blasts and breezy atmospherics for seven minutes. The tracks that succeed are “The Beginning And The End” by Venetian Snares and “False Light” by the Oktopus, thanks to their added groove, and Justin Broadrick’s remix of “Hym.” Broadrick’s track is a perfect closer. It is everything that makes Isis great: It is epic, awe-inspiring, and heavy. Broadrick is no stranger to the studio and does everything from looping, choir-like vocals, to fattening up the guitars to a massive wall and changing levels. By the time some of Turner’s screams kick in, you are hooked and Broadrick starts dipping even deeper into his bag of tracks to repeat bits of sound like a DJ scratching, employing volume swells to their full worth, and overlap sections in a masterful manner.
While some of the two discs are just a noisy mess, there is plenty worth hearing here. Broadrick’s fourteen-minute masterpiece alone might be reason enough to check this out, but there also other strong tracks that that allow for both Isis and the artist’s voice to come through and create something refreshingly new.