Review Summary: Isakov knows how to pull at your heartstrings and does so with frequency
“Words mean more at night, like a song” Isakov sings on the stirring ‘Words’, “And did you ever notice the way light means more than it did all day long?” This Empty Northern Hemisphere
has a penchant for taking simple observations and poeticizing them in a fashion that makes the mundane feel like art. In this case, Isakov sits idly with a pen and paper, thinking about how his love letter will reach his muse: “I'll send you my words, from the corners of my room / And though I write them by the light of day, please read them by the light of the moon.” His voice is glazed in a pastoral sheen – sad but with a glimmer of hope – as drums patter slowly and acoustic guitars echo longingly in the distance. This moment is the best distillation of Gregory Alan Isakov’s work that I can think of: genuine, imaginative, and achingly romantic. He’s an artist who captures your mind with his effortlessly imaginative wordplay, and subsequently wins your heart with his sincerity.
Isakov has contributed six full-length albums to-date, but This Empty Northern Hemisphere
remains his golden standard. It ebbs and flows with inimitable grace, alternating between hushed Parachutes
-era acoustics and swelling, emotional choruses that aren’t far removed from the likes of Damien Rice or Glen Hansard. Between these elegant, shimmering atmospheres and Isakaov’s cathartic elevation of the whole experience, one would be hard-pressed to find a better thought-provoking indie-folk record.
This Empty Northern Hemisphere
is overflowing with gorgeous yet soul-shattering moments. ‘The Moon Song’ sways and dances through a starlit field, a rustic fiddle swelling in the background, as Isakov compares his forsaken love to an animal begging for scraps off the bone: “You came on strong like some running wave, and your beauty left me broke and hungry / Left me begging to the birds for a bone or an offering / Left me saying nothin', nothin', like I always say” before ultimately concluding, “those broken-hearted lovers, they got nothing on me.” The scope is turned outward on pieces like ‘Evelyn’, which depicts the plight of a woman who stumbled into a gas station/truck stop job after high school. While the chorus to the song is one of Isakov’s liveliest and most melodic, it’s clear that Evelyn feels trapped, resenting the college girls who pass by when the bars let out because they represent a hope that – for her – has long been dead. On ‘If I Go, I’m Goin’, Isakov pens a heart-shattering tale of a man living alone in his house after his wife’s death, refusing to leave it because it is the last shred of her that he can physically hold on to: “This old house, she's quite the keeper / Quite the keeper of you.” There are several aesthetics at play on This Empty Northern Hemisphere
, and whether it is the romantic intertwining of words or devastating storytelling, Isakov knows how to pull at your heartstrings and does so with frequency.
This Empty Northern Hemisphere
is both aesthetically gorgeous and emotionally powerful. The backdrops are rustic and charming, espousing many of indie-folk’s best traits, while Isakov’s words regularly knife their way through whatever guards you might put up. It’s the sort of album that checks any sense of grandeur at the door as well, instead allowing its gentle, moving balladry wash over you and sweep you away. If you’re the kind of listener who likes to stare out the window on a rainy day – covered under blankets while gripping a warm coffee – or gaze into a starry night, pondering the cosmos until you lose yourself in the magnificence of it all – then This Empty Northern Hemisphere
just might be your spirit album. Sink into it and drift away to Isakov’s breathtaking world.