Maybe I’m the first. Maybe, I’m the last, but either way, I had never heard of the Invisible until recently. And, when I worried that I was too enthralled by aggressive music, I deliberately sought out something more contemplative. I found the Invisible, but that then that’s obvious already.
But, there is a red herring in the house. One, probably more than one, writer made a comparison between the Invisible and both TV on The Radio and Bloc Party. Musically, that’s just wrong. So, let’s talk herring. All 3 bands have front men with obvious African heritage. All 3 bands have members with obvious African names. That’s where it ends. Other related myths:
- David Crosby and David Bowie are the same person.
- Fishbone and Phish play the same style music, albeit with differing levels of excitement.
- Django Django were chained and are no longer.
- The Beastie Boys are siblings to the Yeastie Girlz.
- The dead can dance and are grateful relatives of JFK.
How do the Invisible sound? That’s not an easy question. The Invisible resemble the xx, in that both have a melancholy, quiet sound that keeps your body still as your mind ponders … or wanders. On the one hand, you have the xx, a very minimalist band, where phrases and notes come and go distinctly, deriving their impact, in part, from the space and silence between notes. On the other hand, there’s the Invisible, where there is no complete silence and nothing completely or distinctly comes and goes; everything fades in and out. The xx are contemplative and thoughtful asking “what if?” and “can we?” while the Invisible asks “why?” and “how did this happen?” Both are in the same musical neighborhood, but one is in a quiet alley (the xx) and the other is just above the French restaurant (the Invisible). The Invisible sound a lot like a soundtrack to any TV show featuring musical montages covering scenes of pensive thought or quietly desperate seeking.
Their second album, Rispah, opens with “A Particle of Love” a vague synth wash over a Kenyan chanting/drumming spiritual recorded at singer/guitarist Dave Okumu’s mother’s funeral. The sample eventually fades in with a spacy guitar into “Generational” a song a lot like a beat-heavy Radiohead in Kid A. Throughout the album, the vocals are a quiet, a little breathy, and high-pitched, sometimes a near-falsetto. The drums insist you dance, but only in a mid-speed Culture Club kind of way. But can you dance with “Lifeline” lyrics “can’t sleep tonight, because I’m so lonely”? Can you? Without even a little guilt? In “What Happened” the synths are throat-singing, I swear it, as a melancholy overdub harmony mourns loss. Oh it’s not all sad. There’s “Great Wound”, “Surrender”, and “The Stain”. OK, they’re all a bit sad, too, but each mixes the general sadness with some element of prominent rhythm or occasionally aggressive synths, open window traffic noise from the French restaurant analogy. Case in point, if you listened to just the first 10 seconds of “Utopia”, you’d be convinced you’re in the intro to another complicated song from Battles, but, enter the sad vocals, spacy samples and you discover you’re in the hangover dream from Battles all night party.
The Invisible don’t live in their own unique territory. They live in the places between many well-regarded moody bands. Make the sound a little less electronic and they’re Autolux. Take away the rhythmic intensity and they’re Radiohead. Drop the synths and it’s almost the xx. Add a little bouncy strut and they’re every British synthpop band ever invented. Focus on the experimental aspects and they’re Battles. Make no mistake, they’re not derivative. They’re a new recipe from familiar materials. A new kind of pizza. Not pineapple pizza … never that.