Plans Drawn in Pencil

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After peaking with Lucky Cat, Isan basically remained cruising at the same breezy altitude with subsequent releases, including Plans Drawn in Pencil. But with Isan, this doesn't suggest stagnation, and this is great news -- the band's quiet ambience is a treat that's hard to get too much of. Plans Drawn in Pencil offers more of those trademark warm and slow electronic textures and rhythms (it's sometimes hard to distinguish between the two) that are so tender and soothing they sound more organic than many "real" instruments. This is music for lulling children to sleep, or falling asleep when you're not a child anymore, or petting a drowsy cat, or dreaming some nice dreams with your eyes open. On some tracks, such as "Immoral Architecture," Isan's roots are showing -- those compositions wouldn't sound out of place in an ‘80s French sci-fi movie with its almost naïve love for space, other worlds, and diverse, cute alien creatures, -- but elsewhere, the sound is not so much otherworldly as universal, fit for any kind of introspect activity, from the everyday to the romantic. This does indeed describe most of the band's previous work, and the differences may be hard to spot with music this soft and unobtrusive, but if the style's the same, the compositions are not, and so the whole thing feels fresh and ready for repeated listens, which may also really reveal some slight songwriting shifts. For one, there are no standout tracks on Plans Drawn in Pencil, although in the past, Isan' sometimes managed to leap from "delightful" to "utterly breathtaking" (as on "Birds Over Barges" off Meet Next Life); besides, the vibe is, after all, a bit more ascetic and moody than it used to be -- more floating in orbit, less playing kittens. But still, on the whole, this is another flawless sonic equivalent of a cloud-watching session.

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