There is a strain of music criticism that says nothing is truly new—that grading art on the curve of innovation is both baseless and short-sighted, since chances are we’ll never escape the shadow of The Beatles, anyway. In one sense, they’re right: Novelty should never stand in for substance, and something can be worthwhile without reinventing the wheel.
But then there’s the rare occurrence when a new record doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard before—and it reminds you of the possibility music contains. A new sonic highway is being carved through hereto-unheard forests, and it’s a road you can’t wait to drive down.
This is how it feels hearing Gina Burgess’s Isnow, a genre-agnostic effort that combines Celtic-tinged violin with Inuit throat singing, sparse arrangements and jazz-like structure. Fans of Björk and Tanya Tagaq will be all in from Burgess’s opening lyrics, which bluster like an arctic wind across sharp mountains of violin. By the time the album opener “Anuri” kicks into gear, you’re thinking this might be what a northern Canadian Fiona Apple might sound like, a visual that hooks as hard as Isnow’s irrepressible rhythms.
Burgess’s list of high-powered projects and big-name collaborations includes everyone from the four-time ECMA winning band Gypsophila to Iqaluit rockers The Jerry Cans to Kanye West himself (back in his College Dropout era). She’s worked with over 60 acts in total. But on Isnow, listeners are reminded how Burgess doesn’t need anyone to stand beside in order to make rollicking, powerful songs. The proof is in the ever-pulsing drum, the way Brugess’s vocals see-saw on the edge of melody, and the way these songs show that a violin can be a vehicle.