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Whether with their past bands or as individual performers, Benjamin Verdoes (of alt-rock group Mount St. Helens Vietnam Band) and Nathan Quiroga (of the genre-blending, hip-hop collective Buffalo Madonna) have always been artists pushing the proverbial musical envelope while also writing songs that were far from the conventional. So when the two artists decided to join forces as Iska Dhaaf in 2011, it came as a surprise, and their first album, 2014’s Even the Sun Will Burn, was even more startling for its multi-layered, hook-driven alternative pop. While the record was captivating, it felt like Verdoes and Quiroga were still finding their rhythm and sound as duo. That question, however, may have been answered on their sophomore album, The Wanting Creature.
On The Wanting Creature, Iska Dhaaf move away from the guitar-driven aesthetics of their debut and delve into the kaleidoscopes of indietronica. The result is an album that is immensely dark yet rich, haunting yet beautiful. These adjectives are not just to describe the multi-soundscapes that Verdoes and Quiroga take us, but also the album’s central themes of loss, transformation, and uncertainty. The Wanting Creature is not so much a concept album, but a doctoral dissertation about the humanity and the human spirit, about our relationships with one another, with nature, and within ourselves.
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The back-to-back stunners, “Chrysalis” and the “Faceless Death”, best represent the album’s foci. The former does not merely describe the events of that turn a caterpillar into a beautiful monarch butterfly but also the slow revelation of one’s inner beauty. The latter, with its Massive Attack-like entrancement, is the realization of our own vulnerability. “The Moth” echoes Thom Yorke’s solo work in sound and storyline, a crippling song of love, addiction, and desire. “The Wanting Creature”, which closes the album, is like a fantasy – ephemeral but endlessly enchanting.
Verdoes’ and Quiroga’s pasts, though, do reveal themselves on the album’s first two songs. The album’s opener, “Invisible Cities”, bridges the hallow guitar work heard on Even the Sun Will Burn while merging with the dark, atmospheric soundscapes heard on The Wanting Creature. The chatter of children informs us that are in our quest for success we often to leave many behind. The introspective “Lost”, meanwhile, is steeped in deep synths while melding the entrancing soundscapes of Thievery Corporation.
Although there are some similarities to other bands and artists, as in the case of “Lost”, The Wanting Creature is an album that is completely Iska Dhaaf. It represents the height of Verdoes and Quiroga’s creativity, where they have produced a record that not only further advances the limits of what we hear but also challenges us in the way we perceive the world and ourselves. The Wanting Creature is an ingenious album, and one that has Verdoes and Quiroga applying all their skills and talents to their full potential.
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Cover photo by Jordan Strong.
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