Published Oct 31, 2019On Mappe Of's sophomore record, The Isle of Ailynn, Tom Meikle's predilection for the experimental comingles with his robust imagination, resulting in a richly conceptual collection of intertwined songs that seem to interrogate our world by escaping from it. Although the nine tracks — with titles like "Kintail," "Thessalon" and "Faesulae" — describe fictional lands in a foreign-seeming universe, they're grounded by striking evocations of distinct landscapes and dreamily familiar logic.
On the album's most sombre song, "Volcae," Meikle describes a volcanic figure, singing, "I was born in magma, baptized in the mire, and the smells of lava, washed away the ire." The song's familiar prefix alerts the listener to the song's primary element — volcanic fire — but the suffix is alien, suggesting that the lyric is perhaps not a metaphor, but a pure description of a creature made from fire.
Meikle's attuned ear allows his compositions and orchestrations to describe and evoke not only emotional moods, but also physical environs with hazy accuracy. The faded, hovering synth on "Ailynn" describes floating in the sky, so when Meikle sings, "I've seen the pearly gates, seeking the edge of the Earth" he's confirming place, not establishing it.
On the nine-minute "Icovellavna," doomy horns create a pensive mood, which is partially undone by the subsequent hopping flutes and rapid guitars. One senses furtive, mysterious beauty, at once alluring and mercurial. Meikle then sings, "Icovellavna in your endless serpentine, what sort of secrets could you hide?"
Meikle's compositions are glitchy, dreamy, and varied, moving from breakdowns so playful they're almost kitschy back into contemplative, militantly earnest verses. Because the edges of his songs are cloudy, mysterious even, these sorts of shifts — sometimes tonal, sometimes textural, sometimes sonic — don't seem abrupt. Instead, they seem to fittingly and explicitly reveal elements that were always implied, like Meikle is panning the camera from the beautiful estuary to the foreboding forest that surrounds it.
The Isle of Ailynn is an engrossing, ethereal land, both breathtaking and turbulent, fully rendered and fully felt thanks to Meikle's voice. His pleading, affecting falsetto holds humanity and hope, clarifying that while Ailynn is fictional, its author certainly isn't. Glitchy and synthy, wistful and wise, engrossing and ethical, familiar and foreign, The Isle of Ailynn deserves many listens — both to savour its sounds, and ponder its truths. (Paper Bag)