Turning grief into quiet majesty
Clash Magazine - The Invisible by Amina Nolan

Losing a family member or dear friend affects us all in different ways. Sold by Dave Okumu as “a love letter to grief”, ‘Rispah’ is a manifestation of feelings experienced by The Invisible singer in the wake of his mother’s death. It’s a set palpably touched by loss, its lyrics speaking evocatively of something missing where once there was completion. But it’s no exercise in self-pity - while Okumu’s low vocals are whispers from the heart, the music around them shimmers with life, rippling with detailed textures. If the London-based trio was feeling the pressure after their eponymous debut of 2009 earned a Mercury Prize nomination, it’s not showing.

If said breakthrough was, at times, a fractured affair, ‘Rispah’ - named for Okumu’s mother - is a truly cohesive effort that rewards single-sitting listens. “We found our true identity touring the last record,” says Okumu, bandmates Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor nodding in agreement. “So for this one, I remember us talking about making something emotional, something beautiful. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves, and we discussed reducing the number of things in our palette, having only select sounds.”

Herbert recalls Jack White saying something similar, about only ever having three elements at play at one time on a track. But the compositional space between The White Stripes and The Invisible is considerable - this is a band whose first album was produced by renowned aleatorist and sonic pioneer Matthew Herbert. So ‘Rispah’ is not exactly a stripped-back experience; but it definitely is sensible with its sounds, as Taylor clarifies: “The instruments are now serving the songs, rather than stacking up for the sake of it. We’ve considered what each idea needs.”

Well-complementing the introspection of Okumu’s lyricism, what each idea requires is an atmosphere of tenderness magnificently balanced with a finely tuned tension. So, keyboards from Herbert deliver ethereal tones, but Taylor’s ever-impressive percussion is a constant driving force. Lead single ‘Protection’ is a great example of this marvellously realised contrast: melodically the song could almost be bracketed with the chillwave sect, but the drummer’s creative beats carry it somewhere else. It, like a few other numbers on ‘Rispah’, is evocative of Radiohead at their more ambitiously avant-dance; or perhaps an act like Apparat, where emotions are as naked as the desire to let oneself loose in slow-motion release.

“Some people hear our songs and consider them mellow, while others find the same songs really intense,” says Okumu. “And I love that. Whether we mean to or not, I think we all strive for this vitality in the music. We all have a tendency to want everything in the music, simultaneously, towards music that feels like everything at once. It can be heavy, and dark; it can have a rhythmic orientation but be lyrical and poetic at the same time.”

Poetic seems a very apt concision of what is an immediately affecting listen. Oddly, The Invisible find themselves in a position where their best work yet might sit in the shadow of an inferior predecessor, purely because of a music award. Of course, ‘Rispah’ may reward the band with a second nomination; but Wild Beasts and The Horrors missed out in 2011 with mighty fine follow-up LPs, so…

“The primary thing with this record is that we all like it,” says Herbert. “We don’t really care what anyone else might think about it, because we know we’ve made something that’s really special to us.” Okumu elaborates: “It’d drive me insane if what I felt about this album was contingent on other people’s thoughts. This shared experience, with the three of us, has been really powerful. But if you put expectations on yourself, you’ll quickly go mad. To ‘tick the boxes’ would be a very painful thing, indeed.”

The only boxes ticked here are those of The Invisible’s own design. If “something emotional, something beautiful” was the intended outcome, consider ‘Rispah’ a top-marks success. Few albums this year will touch the listener with the same quiet majesty.

Words by Mike Diver
Photo by Amina Nolan

Read ClashMusic's review of The Invisible's 'Rispah' album.

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