Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
On first listen, there isn’t much special about this brother-sister duo’s sunshine laced pop and reggae. But repeated spins reveal a sly artiness lurking beneath the surface that gradually becomes more obvious. Multi-instrumentalist Elliot Bergman paid his dues in the horn driven, under-the-radar world music/jazz/prog/funk/folk collective NOMO for six years, and you can trace some of this new project’s left of center sounds back to those more experimental times. Sister Natalie, who also contributes keyboards, has a sly sex-kitten-on-ice voice with an enticing ’60s allure. Songs that shift from languid pop to fizzy reggae are the perfect vehicle for her girlish vocal vibe. The effect is often dark, cool and as intriguing as an old British black and white flick when the pieces fall into place, like on the vaguely retro pop of “Another Girl.” As upbeat as much of this is, there remains a darker undercurrent frequently enhanced by Elliot’s baritone sax and homemade kalimba and/or Natalie’s autoharp and chamberlain. Occasional drum loops further augment the edgy aspects which aren’t immediately noticeable. Like the most durable albums, Isles’ charms sneak up, beckoning you back for another spin to appreciate their darker layers. The mood is enriched by an ambitious approach to what seems on the surface to be modest pop songs, which reveal themselves to be far more elaborate, challenging and unusual.