The Late Isabel: From Goth to art rock
by rick olivares
“We’re the Late Isabel. We’re ex-Goths.”
Thus spoke Wawi Navarroza, lead singer for the Late Isabel to the Saturday night crowd that ventured to the Forage Bar + Kitchen in Marikina in spite of the pouring rain. Yet even with Navarroza’s proclamation, the band did return to its roots – the thin veil of the macabre and mystery from their musical heroes Siouxsie and the Banshees – to kick off their 16-song set as well as joining bands from the Riverside Commune in Marikina where the Late Isabel got its start during the early years of the new millennium.
And in a serendipitous moment, the band opened not with their classics from their acclaimed debut album, Doll’s Head, but with a triple play from Siouxsie and the Banshees – “The Killing Jar”, “Hong Kong Garden”, and their slower version of “Christine”. The Gen Xers in the crowd who no doubt grew up during the punk and new wave years of the 1980s were most appreciative.
I find it serendipitous that the Late Isabel are returning with a new album that will be out in a few months’ time, their first since 2011’s “Lackadaisical”. After all, shoegazer masters, Slowdive, also named after a Siouxsie and the Banshees song (from the magnificent “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse”), have also come out of hibernation with a new self-titled album, their first in 22 years.
The Late Isabel jumped to songs from “Doll’s Head”, their acclaimed debut with “Midnight City” and “the Rising Tide” as if to show their progression from covering their influences to their own stab at Goth. This where you have to appreciate that the band aren’t mere copycats. For example, in “Midnight City”, I love the twang in guitarist Allan Hernandez’ style as it evokes rockabilly and those cheap spaghetti westerns that warm my heart. Quite a departure from the style that Banshees’ guitarist John McKay established on the latter’s debut, “The Scream”.
And like Slowdive’s new album, the Late Isabel’s “Lackadaisical” points towards a new direction that sounds eerily familiar. You see… old Goths don’t fade away; they just reinvent themselves.
“Lackadaisical” picks up from “Doll’s House” but with a tighter, grittier but no less brooding sound.
And bassist Roval Bacale and drummer JP Agcaoili punch it up with a new wave beat. “Spin” finds a fantastic vocal performance by Navarroza who is feeling it. If the Late Isabel is the introduction to this kind of music for some of millennials in the crowd, then the Late Isabel could provide a lasting memory. “Isabel the Damaged” It reminds me of the Banshees circa “Cities in Dust”, a danceable and manic beat, and this performance has my mind racing to that scene from the film “Out of Bounds” with the Banshees performing in some club. And Navarroza cutting loose and dancing around on stage, it’s mesmerizing.
The band takes it down a notch with “Imperial” (that will be the title of their forthcoming album) has that Japanese vibe and it must be mentioned that the addition of Ted Baula on percussions (xylophones, chimes, tambourines) adds a layer of oriental mystery to the band’s new sonic direction.
And that direction, with art rock leanings, owes some to other early influences like Television and the Velvet Underground that is seemingly more evident in the new songs as well as Navarroza’s art and her travels that will reportedly have an effect on the songwriting as well as the lyrics.
It is fitting as well, that the band ends with an old favorite, “Doll’s Head”. I cannot help notice that in their return to the Riverside community where they got their start, the Late Isabel ran through the entire gamut of their music history.
It’s at once a history lesson and an exciting glimpse at what it to come.
As I said, old Goths don’t fade away. They just reinvent themselves.