A bolt out of the blue. This proved to be the demo version of “Last Words” in the summer of 2015, released by a twenty-year-old student of the East Anglia University of East Anglia: raw, rigorously lo-fi, the song managed to conquer a consistent audience and, above all, the attentions of an enthusiastic Sir Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music, who flew to London in order to listen to him performing live at the Lexington.
After some singles and Eps, Isaac Gracie releases an eponymous record after two years of hard work, which tries to show off the most characteristic sides of his songwriting and his voice. Son of the poet Judith Gracie with a past in the Ealing Abbey Choir, Gracie was helped by the careful production of Markus Dravis – a man who knows what he does, given the results obtained with Coldplay, Arcade Fire and Florence + the Machine.
It’s easy to label this music as “indie-folk”, maybe a little too easy. Just as it is easy to fall into the trap of classifying Isaac Gracie as a “grunge-inspired singer-songwriter” or drawing comparisons with artists such as Jeff Buckley and Nick Cave.
The guy is an honest artist who focuses on introspection in an album that develops like a diary, song by song, as a whirlwind of seemingly frayed thoughts and moods which find their most appropriate form and their right place the more you progress with listening.
The tracklist has been meticulously studied. The journey starts with “Terrified” an intense pop hymn à-la Snow Patrol, richly arranged without falling in dangerous schmaltzy territories, and soon the rough diamond of “The Death of You and I” is ready to make us gape.
You can even hear the creak of the wooden floor while Gracie moves nonchalantly from a flamenco-western fluttering verse (something we would expect in a scene of a Quentin Tarantino movie, no less) to the scream of the refrain, supported by robust and expressive drums.
Those who loved the most Nick Cave-inspired Veils’ material can find “music for their ears” here, but there’s a lot more: a polished and radio-friendly “Running on Empty” sounds as if it was stolen with dexterity to the Springteen-inspired Killers of their second album, while “Telescope” is graced by an airy melody, a dress sewn to perfection that brings back to “Fugitive” by David Gray.
Isaac’s voice is strong and secure but sometimes broken by emotion, and some moments of vibrato are allowed in an enchanting ballad like “That Was Then” – able to recall the early Starsailor, the already mentioned Jeff Buckley and at the same time to show the signs of a new identity and a story still to be fully written.
If the melancholic scenarios of “Silhouettes of You” betray diligent listenings to Radiohead’s pre-“Ok Computer” stuff, things get more interesting with “All In My Mind“, with a soundscene enriched with instruments and intensity leaving to Isaac, who fearlessly shows us his scars, the role of the protagonist.
A pure talent, this twenty-three year old has much to say and his first record is fascinating because out of time, out of fashion, a mirror of a young man who confesses and while he does it he looks at us with the eyes we see in the cover, which really say a lot – he sort of plays to pose as a maudit conceding a hint of pout but all we can see and hear is a convincing mix of anger and sweetness in a record which resembles its author.
At the same time he owes a lot to decades of songwriting and humbly tries to provide us with a totally new tuning fork we can use to always keep our emotions well tuned.