by Chris Hatch
Never judge a book by its cover, they say. Well, Isle Of Ailynn by Mappe Of is a record that wears its rich, mythical heart proudly on its sleeve. The latest offering from the Toronto-native (Tom Meikle) is a dense, fantastical voyage into a world summoned out of thin air and packed full of life. One glance at the track list conjures up the high-fantasy of Tolkien – Kintail, Thessalon, and Unkno trip off the tongue like long-forgotten lands. Couple this with artwork by Quinn Henderson for each individual track, and – before the needle has even dropped – you have a pretty fair sense of what to expect.
Musically, Isle Of Ailynn borrows from a range of influences as wide as its imaginary valleys – mixing the feudal chamber pop of Joanna Newsom’s Ys with some of the pomp of Want-era Rufus Wainwright, it’s a record of grandiose lyrics, which are matched by its fittingly other-worldly instrumentation. And while Meikle’s subject matter is undoubtedly large-scale, it’s the smaller, more intimate moments that have the most impact – Thessalon’s beautiful, winding folk is reminiscent of the gentler side of Midlake’s The Trials Of Van Occupanther, while the Bon Iver-like double-tracked, auto-tuned vocals that dot the album throughout add a human element to his yearning, fictional stories.
Recorded at The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse Studio in Ontario, the production on the record is as important a feature as the lyrics and songs themselves. Ethereal synth swells and alien drones add a texture that brings to life Meikle’s imaginary lands, while shuffling drums, acoustic guitars, and playful flute trills add a natural, earthly sound to the record. There’s a sparkling, glossy sheen throughout, and when Meikle really let’s rip the songs have a big-budget, cinematic feel that complements the smaller moments perfectly.
The Isle Of Ailynn’s world is one that needs to be dove into head first. The album sits in between the bygone simplicity of Fleet Foxes’ debut and the modern, prog-lite of Mew at their best, and It’s mix of classical arrangements, operatic fantasy, and traditional folk mesh together nicely on album closer Faesulae. At times, the record gets bogged down in its own make-believe world, and it would be interesting to hear Meikle strip things back a little and maybe reveal more of himself in his lyrics – there is, however, something endearing about his eagerness to fully immerse himself in these ancient, archaic lands, and for brief, hazy spells you’ll find yourself floating away there with him.
Secret Meeting score: 76