Daniel Isaiah was born and grew up in Montreal, QC. He studied literature and cinema at Concordia, and played in several bands before going solo. His first record, the eclectic High Twilight, was called a “stunning debut” by American Songwriter magazine. Its follow-up was Come into Gone, a more focused rock album whose single Sail was on rotation on CBC Radio. In 2016, Daniel bought a Nord Lead 4 synthesizer and lugged it across seven countries, writing and recording what would become Only One Left, his most meticulously-crafted work to date – due out November 28th on the label Sainte Cécile.
The creation of this album was book-ended by the saddest and happiest events in Isaiah’s life till now; he started writing it during the last weeks of his mother’s life, and the album was mastered the day before his wedding. In between, Isaiah traveled for nine months – to Turkey, Greece, Israel, Italy, England, France and The Netherlands – taking with him the Nord synthesizer that he used to compose most of the album. He recorded in a big house in Istanbul, a tiny hotel room in Amsterdam, and an even tinier bathroom in Tel Aviv (to mute the birds in the backyard). Back home in Montreal, he got friends to play on the record – Brad Barr, Joe Grass, Joshua Toal and Stef Schneider – and his right-hand man Matt Lederman to mix it.
No longer satisfied with hiring a band and banging out his songs in a studio, Isaiah bought portable recording gear and learned from scratch how to make a record. Writing songs and recording them were no longer separate events that followed one after the other, but two sides of the same coin. The result is Isaiah’s most meticulously-crafted album yet.
The first track “Javelin Fade” opens with the line “The Sirens are calling…”, referring to the creatures of Greek myth who lured sailors with their enchanting voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. But the Sirens also evoke the emergency alarms sounding as the narrator floats over the Earth as the sole witness to the aftermath of a nuclear disaster (“Rising in the fallout”).
In the song “Designer”, Designer Isaiah asks, “Was I made of light / or born to blight / When I crawled onto the sand?” then in the next verse, “Did you raise the man / or let go my hand / When I left the Earth behind?”, tracing humankind’s evolution from its creaturely past coming out of the ocean to its superhuman future exploring the cosmos.
“Till The Deal Is Done”, written in Israel, describes sunbathers “Lying in the August sun” while around them a war is on (“Air raid sirens whining low” – those sirens again). Here Isaiah reflects on a nation whose precarious existence depends on military force (“I came from the war / carrying an evil load”) like the Romans who conquered it ages ago (“Armies on the crumbling arch / Take the spoils away”).
“Till The Pictures Stop” was written during the coldest winter in Montreal in 115 years, when Isaiah was sitting by his mother’s bedside in a palliative care unit – in the same hospital where he was born – watching her slowly pass away (“Clouds will cover up forever skies / I was looking for you behind your eyes”).
Just a few weeks after his mother’s death, Isaiah started dating his future-wife, and the album closes with the hopeful “Three Months, Emily,” written when Isaiah was living in Florence last winter (“It’s not too cold / and from my window / I can see Brunelleschi’s dome”) pondering their future together (“Do you think we should find a place / maybe have a child?”). Isaiah married later that year; his wife Emily is playing keyboards in his band.
Only One Left is an album of endings and beginnings, rooted in Isaiah’s native Montreal, but also the countries where he traveled, a drifter in unfamiliar countries, an outsider looking in. The music itself signals a new phase in the career of this artist – ever curious, ever searching, deeply committed to the old craft of songwriting and experimenting with new forms of musical expression.
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