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Ist Ist – Protagonists Review

Knowing nothing of a band and just waiting to experience their work is a rare development now that everyone can stick their nose in on Twitter and reveal all. Ist Ist has knocked around for nearly a decade now, but their bass-heavy opening to latest album Protagonists is a damning surprise. They have for now avoided certain social circles that think Sweet Caroline club remixes are funny, and that is probably for the best. But once they are in the peripherals, once they are in the wing mirror, they are, as that one scene in Toy Story 2 warned, closer than they appear. Ist Ist is closer to capturing the core of their sound than first expected, and the hardened qualities found in Protagonists is a treat.  

Baritone power from Adam Houghton gives Ist Ist that crucial uniqueness. They channel that best of all on Something Has To Give. Plainspoken, to the point and effective. It is a genuine pause for thought. Something just clicks in the brain. Plain and obvious tellings of what Houghton means, and as much as flowery language and lush metaphors are, there is sometimes no greater honesty than damned and sudden pangs of simplicity. Ist Ist is far from a simple band though, their heavier tones, particularly from the work provided by Andy Keating on bass, are thoroughly intense. Pangs of reflective guilt on Nothing More Nothing Less give some perspective on finality, and the falsehoods people tell themselves. Ist Ist are in touch with their listener and their highs and lows come solely through which pieces work for the experiences told throughout. 

Revitalising their post-punk methods on All Downhill is a good showcase of what Ist Ist hope to continue. Their imagery-clad Mary in the Black and White Room highlights a never-ending power struggle of loved and loveless, the consistency and imitable feel of Mat Peters’ guitar work is an important piece for this track. Charming and intense chord progression on Emily peters out through the slower tones of Artefacts, a sombre and sobering experience after the thrashy punk articulations found before that. Breaking the ice with Fool’s Paradise, continuing that booming baritone possession, Ist Ist cement themselves as more than a three-album trick and consider how their sound evolves from release to release, from track to track. Slick post-punk fundamentals are stored on those early tracks and singles, but by the final few pieces, the Houghton-led tracks border on incredible. 

Always keen to play with expectation, the sudden end to Fool’s Paradise as it sounds like it could go on forever, the piano-clad opening of The Protagonist shifting into a moving, shimmering piece, Ist Ist go beyond what is expected of them. An absolute gem for those that find them, for those that engage their style and appreciate the blend of clear and obvious indicators of meaning and belief with those harsher, rudimentary metaphors that take over the stirring and personal narratives drawn up here. Protagonists is what it says right there on the cover. It is a band at its most intimate and steady, they are the protagonists after all. Taking that gamble pays off for Ist Ist, who cement themselves as interesting, ready with fresh perspectives and articulate, engaging sounds.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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