Summer Isle is a relatively new force in the world of underground music, having existed less than two years, but they will undoubtedly come to be regarded as a powerful and prime location to release a newer generation of noisey goodness. This small Toronto-based label was founded by Max Klebanoff and Rita Mikhael, the masterminds behind the synth destruction of Death Kneel and RM, respectively. The word “bleak” perfectly describes nearly everything about this label, from their aesthetic to the sound of the music they release. Everything from the construction of their site, their bandcamp page, and the artwork featured on their releases is stark, minimalist and monochromatic. And it works perfectly. The sound of the bands featured on this label follows this same scheme: bleak minimalism, primarily through hazy synth and suffocating noise. While you can procure many releases on the label’s bandcamp page in digital form at little to no monetary sacrifice, you can get bleakly beautiful cassettes that come with a bevy of fun extras, such as buttons and business cards, through their store. The label also pedals equally well-designed zines! If you are prepared for a journey into harsh, white nothingness, take a trek to the blindingly bleak Summer Isle…
1. RM: Opal Encounter
This release by one of the label’s founders is the epitome of what Summer Isle is. It is bleak, harrowing, harsh, yet beautiful all at once. Ambient textures and hazy synth crash together and combine to make an ethereal experience of beauty and pain that washes over you at once like a wave crashing into your body, dragging you beneath the depths to an underwater paradise where you know you will soon drown and die, but it is so beautiful you simply do not care.
2. HHL: Shorn/Flail
The second of the releases currently available to purchase on cassette from this great label, Shorn/Flail is a monolithic foray into harsh noise and suffocating sound. Pretty high expectations were formed when I learned that this artist is a frequent live collaborator with sludgey titans, The Body. These expectations were met and exceeded as I crashed into a veritable wall of sound over the course of these two tracks. The wonderfully desolate artwork captures the tone of the music perfectly.
3. Chlorine: Demo
A slight departure from the more noise-oriented artists which are the label’s usual MO, Chlorine is a blistering hardcore punk band with marked influences from noisier grindcore acts. This is good old, straight-ahead, hard-hitting hardcore. Short, sweet and to the point. Sprinting through these five battering rams of tracks is a lot like taking a big gulp of, well, chlorine!
4. V. Sinclair: Dedication
Once again, the word ‘bleak’ continues to be the purveying aesthetic and emotion. Excellent noise compositions utilizing tape manipulation and a variety of field samples to create organically depressing soundscapes. The background hum of life and movement clinks and drones on until you lose yourself. Perfectly selected artwork continues to be the story with the artists this label supports. The maze of greyscale Escher-esque stairs adorning the front is a good indicator of all of the directions this release will take you.
5. Veil and Lamentation: Demo I
Another unique departure from the droning noise specialized in by this label, but still very much fitting the barren, stripped-down aesthetic. This is a synth-laden adventure into minimalistic, lo-fi black metal. A very interesting juxtaposition that makes for a very enjoyable listen. Throat-rending screams and pounding drums tear aggressively through floating, ambient synths for a unique and interesting stark contrast. Atmospheric and beautiful, yet disgustingly raw all at once. The artwork paints a picture of bitter resignation and depression.
6. Moss Harvest: Constructs of Loss and Longing
This album is aptly named, as all of the songs contained within perfectly encapsulate the title. Droning, melancholy synths and perfectly placed field samples draw you into the depressing vision of the crafter, beautiful yet mournful melodies deftly hidden between the layers of noise.
7. RM: Crown Vetch
Another release from one of the founders of the label and another standard bearer. This release perfectly portrays the beautiful melancholy and bleak, barren aesthetic that this label seems to value so highly. This release is slightly harsher in tone than Opal Encounter, but is equally ethereal. More consistent greatness from RM.
8. Death Kneel: French Farewell
A final nail in the proverbial coffin by part-label founder Death Kneel. This release is everything that is fantastic about fellow co-founder RM, but presented in a different way. Rooted in power electronics and drone, the noise begins to swell and very subtly change throughout the course of each song, drawing you in and grinding you up slowly, almost gently. But deliberately, nonetheless.