Illusionaut – The New Body Electric – Album Review
Back in 2018, I had the pleasure of listening to the debut record by Illusionaut, called Snow Queen. If you click here to read it, I’m positive that I had a ton of great things to say about it, even without going back over it myself prior to writing this new review here – it’d just be uncharacteristic of me to not love on a band like this that has pumped out such immaculate sonic depth through my speakers, you know? Best way I can prove that to ya now, would be to point out the fact I can still remember highlights like “Glue Trap,” and songs like “Keep Running” are embedded firmly into the soundtrack of my LIFE. I don’t forget great music, and Illusionaut made a bunch of it when they made their debut, no doubt about it.
So to say that I’m pleased to report this record exceeded all expectations I could have possibly had would be the biggest understatement I could make – I’m freakin’ STOKED about what I hear on The New Body Electric and the way that Illusionaut continued to evolve since they made Snow Queen. Based out of Little Rock, Arkansas…I’ll be real with ya…with what I know & what I’ve learned throughout writing this review, we’re damn near lucky we even GET another Illusionaut record…I feel like this band ended up much closer to extinction than many of us might ever know. According to legend, they successfully toured for quite a while in support of Snow Queen (ahem – Ottawa IS on the map, feel free to stop by!), and then…I mean…it’s hard to say they didn’t basically implode somewhat from there. From the ashes of the remnants, two of the original members decided to refocus the vision for what Illusionaut was meant to be, and the approach they’d take to their music. They’d wear masks even, to prevent any ego from taking over…to remain anonymous…to make their music as a singular entity, fully united as one. They also picked up a couple more key players in the process, to round out their lineup to a meaty four – and slowly over the past two years or so, the songs of The New Body Electric began to take shape…
…and voila, here we are. At long last, they returned at the end of the year with their brand-new album, sounding more inspired, bigger & more badass than they ever have before. Don’t get it twisted & don’t get me wrong – you’ve already read a fraction of how much I was digging on their debut, and I still do – but this…this is the sound of a band that has embraced their evolution and maximized their potential. I listen to The New Body Electric, and I’m downright amazed by the consistency of this record from start to finish. Nine tracks in total – I can guarantee that if you dig what you hear straight off the drop of the “Intro” and the record’s title-track to follow, that you’ll love everything you hear on the entire album. And that ain’t a promise I type out all that often, if ever really…but that’s just how consistent The New Body Electric genuinely IS…it’s bloody bulletproof if you ask me, loaded with Illusionaut’s best to-date.
For real…when a critic’s biggest beef can pretty much only come down to the question of “why have the “Intro” as a separate track instead of just adding that extra twenty-eight seconds to the first tune?” – you’re in pretty damn good shape, you follow me? Aside from nitpicking on some mundane detail that doesn’t matter like that anyway, they leave you with nothing else to even consider as questionable – the rest just makes pure sense. As with all music, sure there’s personal taste involved…and hopefully you have some! If you do, then you’ll have no problems here at all. I’m kidding of course…sort of anyhow – but you get what I mean…if Jack Johnson & sandal-wearing acoustic dudes are your jam, you might not find yourself in the front row for Illusionaut…and I’m confident they’ll find a way to live without ya; but if you’re into bands like Jane’s Addiction, Failure, and Quicksand…you’ll love Illusionaut as much as I do. The first song alone should more than convince ya…listening to “The New Body Electric” was like hearing some kind of extremely rad hybrid between something like Jane’s Addiction, Filter, and Radiohead all rolled into one somehow…especially when you hit the vocal strengths displayed in the chorus of this cut. It’s a beefy record y’all…nine tracks, eight songs & an “Intro,” but still hittin’ that forty-minute mark when all is said & done…that puts ya at about an average of five-minutes per song, so rest assured, as you’d expect from Illusionaut, these songs they’ve created have multiple twists & turns that’ll take you on a verifiable sonic trip. Like…no joke…LISTEN to the way these guys harness the power of the moment and push “The New Body Electric” to the incredible heights it reaches, starting right around the 2:30-ish mark…before that point, they were solidly exploring the space-like dimensions of their melodic-side, but once you tick past the 2:45 mark, it’s game-fucking-ON, and Illusionaut starts to show you what they’re capable of at their max strength combined. Listen to those guitar tones around the 3:50 mark will ya? Brilliant! The serious pound of the drums…amazing. The boldness in the bass-lines throughout the whole song…essential. The vocals…are straight-up outta this world…imaginative & stunningly creative; “The New Body Electric” ain’t just a great opening tune, ain’t just a solid title-track…it’s arguably still among the record’s best cuts. I gave it a spin on the last episode of the SBS Podcast on New Year’s Day this month in fact…and if you tuned in, you’d have heard me tell ya I’d be splitting hairs when it comes to what my favorite tracks on this album would be…I lean towards “The New Body Electric” as a solid choice in the sense that it makes an incredible first impression, and the vocal hooks are all-out addictive.
C’mon y’all…that gritty grind on into the beginning of “Bella” hits the mark bang-on, and sets the tone for this gnarly, murky, and mysterious track they’ve got here. I’ll say this – I always find it interesting as to what a band or an artist will interpret to be the main single from an album…quite often, we’re so attached to the material, that being the creators of it all, can make it tougher to be fully objective. Do I think there could have been a better choice than “Bella” as the lead-single from The New Body Electric? Honestly, it’s hard to say. I think there are songs with stronger hooks when it comes right down to it, but if we’re talking about a song with widespread accessibility that still holds true to the Illusionaut sound & represents them well without giving it all away in one shot…”Bella” is perhaps THE choice to make – I can recognize that. The hooks are tangible here in the verse & chorus, and even for a five minute tune from a band as adventurous as Illusionaut can be, they arguably play this one a bit more straight-ahead in its design than you’ll find in many of the other cuts by comparison…so like I said, I get it – I think it’s a solid choice to have put out there, and a choice that gives listeners the opportunity to find their way through the gateway single into a record that’ll likely full-on blow your mind with the rest of what you’ll discover in its set-list. I suppose what I’m saying is, while I could argue there’s going to be a more memorable moment or hook found in the lineup of songs surrounding “Bella” – when it comes to this particular track, you get a whole lot of balance in its appeal…and it IS a single-worthy tune. I mean…I’d practically fight you all over the fact that they’ve got an album FULL of’em…but you get the point I’m making I’m sure – there’s a few more degrees of accessibility in “Bella” that works to their advantage. I like that they’ve got this…like…Post-Punk vibe in the energy of the verses…distant…almost like something you’d expect from The Smiths in terms of atmosphere & aura – but with the added punch they put into the chorus and the way they storm through this song with such presence & confidence, you get seriously powerful emotion that’s every bit as gripping & compelling as it is entertaining. “Bella” also has the advantage of full-on video support too, being the lead-single & all – check it out below!
Not only did we spin their title-track on the latest episode of the SBS Podcast, but we also played “Through The Trees” in a double-shot. Sure I could have played “Bella” for ya – and I probably will in the future at some point – but I figured, since we’re posting up the video with this review & all, you’d be able to check that cut out right here at the page in the meantime…plus, on a personal level, yeah, I like those other two tracks just that much more. “Through The Trees” is like…man…how do you describe this properly…it’s like…a master-class on how to make subtle vibes hit hard – that make any sense? It’s the confidence you can hear in these guys as they play…everything is so sure, steady, reliable, and yet still just as creative & inventive as you know this band to be. Like I was tellin’ ya from the get-go, to listen to this record is to hear the evolution that’s occurred within Illusionaut…The New Body Electric is going to serve as the blueprint for their pathway forward from here and they’re gonna surge into this next decade to follow, mark my words. A track like “Through The Trees” pretty much has it all if you ask me…there’s an Indie/artistic dimension to it, there’s the depth of its Progressive structure, and departure into a gnarly Metal-inspired chorus, there’s the Space-Rock atmosphere in the breakdown – it’s a full-on sonic smorgasbord of audible awesomeness, that’s the facts. Storming to the end of this track with authority, the finale thirty-seconds of this cut would be worth the price of admission alone – but y’ain’t gonna wanna miss out on a single morsel of “Through The Trees” along the way. From the cleverness in the way it’s sung, to the brilliant tone of the bass-lines that run deep through this song, to the remarkable fluidity “Through The Trees” displays almost in direct defiance of its diverse versatility, the songwriting and execution on a track like this is just straight-up second to none. For how far you travel in the journey of sound this song will take you on, it’s a serious achievement to be able to keep us all onboard & listening with such variety, and yet not come out picking it apart from what pieces we like best. Y’all been paying attention right? I’m tellin’ ya…the consistency & balance of this record is impeccable – Illusionaut didn’t just come back with a new record – they came back with purpose and something to prove. “Through The Trees” is more confirmation of a mission completely accomplished.
Whereas a track like “Through The Trees” reminds me much of the Quicksand-side of their sound, a track like “Across Plains” bears more similarities to the softer-side of Failure & the many side-projects of Ken Andrews…which as a lifelong fan of everything that man has done, certainly works for me. Though to be fair to Quicksand, they’re not too far removed from the sound of a song like “Across Plains” either when you consider the shift in their latest records into the sheer melodic & atmospheric brilliance of tracks like “Cosmonauts” – but I digress & you get the point – Illusionaut keeps kickass company when it comes to the comparisons I could make. We’re only talkin’ about fragments anyhow – Illusionaut does their own thing, and they do it well – it just puts them in the realm of going on some extremely wicked tours in their future to come when the scene starts to catch onto a record like The New Body Electric. “Across Plains” starts out almost threatening to take ya into a Grunge-inspired track for a more, subtle as it may appear…the depth & punch & true grit in the instrumentation seems like it’s about to lead you in that direction, before Illusionaut shifts gears once again, and morphs their way into one of the more beautiful & serene moments you’ll find in the lineup of this record. I love hearing these guys come outta the chorus and back into the verse around the two-minute mark of this song…it’s so in-the-pocket and right in their wheelhouse that you can hear Illusionaut fully blossom in the moment here as they dive into the artistic-side of their sound without apologies. Fantastic relationship between the bass & guitars on this track, especially throughout the exploratory vibes of the third minute in “Across Plains” – there’s such a clear Post-Punk influence on the Illusionaut sound, but without it ever really being the dominant factor either. I do not know how they achieve this significantly awesome hybrid, it just seems to come naturally to them…this is the music they were meant to be making, and as a result, that’s how it sounds.
While it’s clear that I’m stoked about this whole set-list, there ARE songs and moments that do end up grabbing my attention that much more, which there will be for you too; despite the consistency & balance, we all still like what we like and love what we love – that’s natural. So like…lemme tell ya – “Wake Up” is basically one of those reasons I get outta bed every morning…the kind of cut I’m hoping to find out there somewhere. This song…good gravy-boat lighthouse y’all…the performance on this song will blow the rest of what’s left of your mind! You could slip “Wake Up” right onto Stone Temple Pilots No. 4 album and no one out there would bat an eye or question it – that’s the level of sonic ferocity we’re talkin’ about here. What makes a track like “Wake Up” somewhat different in that comparison, is that Illusionaut’s working with what’s essentially an anti-chorus here…and that admittedly can be a more difficult listening experience for the masses out there. That being said, “Wake Up” is built on expressing a whole bunch of stuff that the masses should at least be a little uncomfortable with anyhow – a holding up of the mirror of sorts, so that we can see our reflection and what we’re missing. “You’ll get back what you put out” – part warning, part realism, all facts – “Wake Up” doesn’t fuck around with its directness and relentlessly gripping onslaught of powerful sound. The most you’ll find me conceding to ya is that it always feels a bit strange when you shift out of the energy you find in a verse that moves at the pace & fierceness this one has and come slamming into the steady & slower-pace of an anti-chorus in that regard…as listeners we naturally assume the energy continues to build in the course of a song’s structure, and it’s always bound to throw a few people when you move in the opposite direction. That being said, with Illusionaut’s Progressive tendencies, their dedicated fans will have no issues with following them straight on down the rabbit-hole wherever they’re gonna want to take ya…they’ve got more creative freedom, flexibility, and room to roam than most bands have in that regard. Lyrically, it’s one of their most tangible ideas for sure, and some of the hardest-hitting words they’ve put into this record, punctuated with the sense of urgency that comes along with the hooks in singing “Wake Up” like our lives depend on it…which they very well might. For the shortest track on the album, they cover an extraordinary amount of ground once again somehow, and put in a ton of twists & turns into this three & a half-minute tune…I could go on & on about this cut…it’s definitely one of my own personal favorites.
To some extent, it’s fair to say that a song like “Think It Over” is probably less of a challenge to the band in terms of the technical skills they have or the raw power they possess, but it’s also impossible to argue against a flawlessly executed tune too. This track actually reminds me a lot of The Quality Of Mercury – and if you know the history of these pages of ours, that band went on to win our Best New Sound of the year back in 2016…so yep, once again, Illusionaut’s keepin’ damn good company in comparison. High degrees of space-like vibes in this tune…at the very least until around the 2:40 mark, but still prevalent afterwards, you just get a bit more of an aggressive bite to the sound surrounding’em is all. “Think It Over” plays very much like a part-one & part-two type scenario…completely joined together yes, but with two noticeably different energies that play a significant role in this particular tune. The first half has a largely dreamy & inviting, almost unassuming & innocent sound to it…welcoming you to “Think It Over” like you’ve got all the time in the world to do that – and the second half hits you with that more intense feeling of urgency, like the sands of the hourglass are running out right in front of us while we listen. What was once vivid and close-up seems to spiral and drift away as the intensity picks up, and that excess time we felt like we had dissipates…”it’s like breathing in water” all of a sudden, like there’s no time at all to “Think It Over” anymore, and right when you realize that, the song is over and you’re left sitting in the silence at the end before the next track begins to consider how the heck you got here. Love the texture & tone in the guitars and in the vocal melodies/harmonies as “Think It Over” begins – Illusionaut sets this track up perfectly, and continues to deliver after its main shift in the middle, taking you straight from dreamland & a sonic serenity, into a cold, bitter reality & the harshness it comes with.
In terms of what listeners & fans would know from Illusionaut’s past catalog of tunes, and their new record up to this point – I’d say most of what you’ll hear is right in-line with where you’d wanna hear the progression in their progressive tunes, and where you might have expected them to evolve to. A track like “Let The Devil” almost becomes a unique stand-out of its own simply by comparison to the rest; I might be personally more partial to other tracks, but this is a noticeable departure from the bulk of their vibe, including more of a Blues element into the atmosphere this time around. There’s always a fresh energy in trying out something new, and I felt like that worked well in their favor here; it still sounds like Illusionaut for sure, but stylistically, they’ve twisted this song into a really stellar fusion of Alt-Blues that’ll hit the mark for many people out there listening & open up new opportunities for the band’s material to follow once again. By exploring the fringes of their own style, they’re creating crossover potential like you hear in “Let The Devil” that brings Blues & Soul into the mix, branching out the reach of Illusionaut’s music even further while adding even more depth into an album with plenty of that for yay already. A lil’ more of a good thing is always a great thing though, ain’t it? “Let The Devil” is a really well thought-out & constructed tune, played with equal steadiness & confidence as you’d find in any of the others…the addition of the organ & synth in this song was crucial, and they nailed that too. All-in-all, while there’s always going to be a debate over stylistic choices & people’s favorites & whatnot – if you were to tell me that “Let The Devil” was the best cut on the record, you’d get no argument from me. I’d probably have a couple choices ahead of this based on my own personal taste, but again, just by the slightest of margins…when it comes to the quality of their performances & production, they leave you wanting for nothing more than exactly what they give ya. So yeah – ultimately, I’m as equally all about “Let The Devil” as I am with the rest of this lineup…you really can’t deny just how much work Illusionaut has put into perfecting this whole set of songs and how they’ve made sure each cut has something significantly special about it. They put a mesmerizing performance into “Let The Devil” that’s well worth recognition, and give us listeners something new we haven’t experienced from the band to-date so far.
And here we are…pardon my French, but we’ve arrived at the end – the motherfuckin’ MAGNUM OPUS that is “We Never Sleep.” Sometime last year, the same year “Bella” was released in advance, they also snuck this tune out before The New Body Electric came out…and rightly so – if you tuned into the last episode of the SBS Podcast you would have heard me ranting about how the hooks you’ll find on “We Never Sleep” are probably the most memorable of the whole bunch. The longest track on the record at just shy of seven-minutes, this is THE finale you wanna hear on a record y’all, full-stop. Illusionaut comes at this one hard throughout its beginning – but the shift into the bliss you’ll find in the main hooks that start to get revealed around the 3:45 mark will give you an audible master-class on how to go from turning a good song into a great one. Like I would have had no problem at all givin’ “We Never Sleep” a hearty thumbs-up based on its first half if that’s all it ended up being – I was astounded by the way this song went to the next-level. Maybe that’s the thing…it wasn’t like they went to the next-level, it was like they skipped five in between, and found this special moment of time that every single person out there listening would genuinely connect with in profound way of their own. The real magic of music, right there on display…as undeniable and universal as you’ve ever heard it. “You can’t unhear what I said” – damn straight I can’t! I can’t unhear what I’ve heard here either – nor would I ever want to. Illusionaut CRUSHED this entire record from start to finish…hearing them put the cap on this album with such a freakin’ badass masterpiece right at the end was nothing more than mere confirmation that the awesomeness we’ve been listening to all along was real…we were here…and we’ll never forget it. No joke folks, The New Body Electric is an incredibly powerful experience where no attention to detail has been spared, and absolutely nothing overlooked…and that’s a large part of the reason that, when you surge on into the massive hooks of “We Never Sleep” at the very end, you just wanna stand up & cheer. It’s like that final hit of celebration & genuine triumph that concludes it perfectly…like they’ve been building to this epic moment from the drop of track one, and when you hit the payload of “We Never Sleep,” they give you everything they got at full strength, and every reason to return as a result.
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