Tobias Isaksson might not have the biggest name recognition here in the United States, but he’s been plying his trade in pop songwriting for some time with his former bands Irene and Laurel Music. His debut record for the excellent Matinee Recordings is titled Rule of Thirds playfully maneuvers back and forth between traditional new wave and modern electro-pop, all the while referencing heartbreak through various allusions.
Album opener “Fingers” clearly defines the scope of Rule of Thirds from the get-go, offering a trickling bit of synth work as Isaksson warmly whispers his lyrics of love lost. While the pacing of the track is slow, it provides a precursor to what will follow, establishing a strong foundation for the record’s entirety. Immediately following is one of the standout tracks present here, “Catcher in the Rye.” Musically, the electronic work almost builds to an arm-swinging dance hit, but what’s interesting is the juxtaposed vocal presence, begging you to remain a bit subdued; it becomes more of a genuine pop gem rather than a dance floor banger. For a bit, the album kind of walks this same line, which at times can be to its detriment, being a bit too complacent, but pushing through reveals much more depth waiting on the latter half.
One of the tracks that immediately stood out to me on the first several listens was “Long Way Down.” The opening synth sequence was enough to hook me originally, yet it continued to evolve more into a traditional pop song, forcing me to realize that my Azure Blue listening experience may have been all wrong from the start, as it’s more carefully crafted pop tunes that rise above the label of mere synth pop. “Dreamy Eyes” might completely contradict that little offering, as it’s definitely one of the most upbeat, danceable tracks, but the following track, “The Shore,” is anything but electro-pop. Musically, yes, there’s some electronics here, but the minute details applied to “The Shore” demonstrate that this could easily be transferred into some genius guitar ballad. Tobias seems to carefully consider the way his lyrics are delivered, with pitch and tone harmoniously fitting into the musical background.
The more you fall victim to the genius of Rule of Thirds, the more you realize that you could easily replace every bit of electronics with traditional guitar and drums, creating wondrous pop tunes, yet Isaksson as Azure Blue doesn’t seem to be content with normalcy. He’s carefully crafted an album of love lost around intricate electronic details, providing listeners with track after track of gorgeous, melodious songs, the type that will sink deep into your soul the more you listen. For this, amongst other reasons, the record is a huge success and worthy of many hours of your time.
Download: Azure Blue – The Catcher in the Rye [MP3]