It’s dangerous to draw simple connections between the life of an artist and the art that they make. But Rispah is named after The Invisible singer/guitarist Dave Okumu’s mother, who passed away early into sessions for the group’s second album, and this loss — and the pain, self-doubt and readjustment that followed — explain the bleak-to-the-bone mood that saturates the album.
“Generational”, the first song, opens with the words “This is serious,” Okumu’s voice sounding desolate, as though he’s caught in some past-midnight moment of self-examination. “I can’t sleep tonight,” he sings on “Lifeline”, over a hypnotic syncopated pulse, “because I’m so lonely.” It sounds less like a moment of self-pity than some chilling, existential realisation.
Even as instrumentals, Rispah‘s tracks would resonate. The Mercury-nominated trio occupy a sweet spot between live performance and studio boffinry recalling Talk Talk in their imaginative blend of acoustic and electronic elements. The serrated samples and guitar jags of “Protection” are mesmerising, as is the tense interplay between syncopated, reverb-fogged guitar picking and programmed drums on “Generational”. The wintery melodies evoke a mood of turbulence and uncertainty, and are beautiful but — as on the dark twists and turns of “Surrender” — also possess dramatic muscle.
Okumu’s lyrics invest The Invisible’s burnished soundscapes with a deft emotional weight. The soulful ache of his vocals mine both his gloom and the hope that followed it — “What Happened” is a Jesu-esque hymnal, scored for humming synthesizers — to create a moving, haunting, and powerful set.