Taking elements of rock, glitch, and retro-flavored-synthetic, then coloring it with a decidedly melodic worldview, Iris is a band that is hard to classify.Â
On their newest release, Radiant they blend their classic electropop sound to create a masterpiece rivaling the likes of VNV Nation, Covenant, Apoptygma Berzerk and Assemblage 23. Synthpop rose out of the post-punk era as part of the new wave movement of the late-70s to mid-80s. Featuring the synthesizer as a mainÂ instrument, synthpop first became prominent in the 80s as a genre of popular music. Ultravox, Human League, and Gary Numan would help pave the way for acts such as Soft Cell, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), Depeche Mode and the Eurythmics. In the late 80s, acts such as Erasure, Pet Shop Boys and Book of Love were highly successful on the US dance charts, but by the end of the decade synthpop had largely been abandoned.
Most popular bands from the era moved away from synthpop by incorporating more conventional influences and instruments into their sounds.Synthpop would remain popular in clubs but on a much smaller scale. Acts such as Anything Box, Cause & Effect, Red Flag, and Information Society helpedÂ keep the flame alive until synthpop became somewhat of an underground culture.
Iris formed in 1993, under the name Forgiving Iris, when singer Reagan Jones and original keyboardist Matt Morris met while attending college in Texas. Influenced by 80s artists such as Erasure and Depeche Mode, Forgiving Iris began by playing covers locally while at the same time learning their electronic craft. One day they struck upon the formula thatÂ would be the genesis of their debut album, Disconnect.
In 1999, they shortened their name to Iris and released their debut album on the indie synth label A Different Drum. Disconnect is a pure masterpiece of synthpop music. With its well-mixed synths, solid bass and slamming beats, Disconnect is a shamelessly 80â€™s influenced gem which spawned the darkwave club classics â€œAnnie, Would I Lie To You?,â€ â€œLose In Wanting,â€ â€œSaving Time,â€ and â€œDanger Is The Shame.â€ Scoring them Best Band and Best AlbumÂ at the American Synthpop Awards in 2000, Disconnect has become an all-time best seller for A Different Drum.
Although quickly finding success in the synthpop underground, Jones and Morris started having arguments over their musical direction and, as a result, the founding members parted ways due to musical and personal differences.
Fast-forward to 2002, when Jones had a chance meeting with keyboardist and producer Andrew Sega, of The Alpha Conspiracy. Jones and Sega started working on some test tracks, the first of which would later become the song, â€œUnknown.â€ The pair quickly hit it off and a summer of sessions in Austin, TX produced 2003â€™s Awakening, which the band released on Segaâ€™s own label, Diffusion Records.
On this sophomore release, Sega added guitars and pushed the bandâ€™s sound in a more experimental electronic direction. They updated their sound considerably, bringing in notes of Underworld-esque electronics, heavy ambiance and thicker rhythms. Similar to that of De/Vision, they slowed down the tempo of most of the tracks. Adding in some thoughtful lyrics, Iris blended their music moving vocals giving us a recognizable Iris sound but with a slightly different approach. Awakening also managed to land the band an overseas record deal with Infacted Recordings, which opened the door to tours with European synth bands such as Mesh, Seabound and De/Vision.
The remix album, Reconnect, was also released in 2003. The singles that were released off of Disconnect had quickly gone out-of-print. A Different Drum put together a full-length remix album built around these originally released singles, which included some of these original mixes as well as several new ones.
In 2005, Iris took a more aggressive approach with the release of the more rock-oriented album, Wrath. Moving away from the dance-friendly elements of synthpop, Wrath showed the duo experimenting in various electronics to provide a solid, more alternative rock sound that still resonated with synthpop fans. Its first single â€œAppetiteâ€ went number one on mainstream radio in Poland and a European tour followed, including festivals in Moscow and London. Wrath is proof of the dynamic style of this band and how powerful their music can be.
In 2008, the band released the remix CD/DVD combo, Hydra. The CD featured a few new tracks as well as remixes from various electronica styled acts such as Mesh, Alpinestars, Benz and Datguy. The DVD includes some interviews as well as behind-the-scenes footage of their tours and shows.
Reminiscent of Wolfsheim, Neuroticfish, Lost Signal or Evils Toy, Iris embraced their darker side on their 2010 release, Blacklight. Released through Infacted Recordings, the album is a perfect blend of darkwave mid-tempo ballads with some heavy bass line synth-layered dance-friendly tracks. The album garnered the band lots of positive European press as well as spots at festivals like Swedenâ€™s Arvikafestivalen, and Germanyâ€™s Wave-Gotik-Treffen.
After Blacklight, though, it appeared the flame of Iris had burned out. A final 20-date US tour caused internal tensions to flare up, and the duo decided to quietly go their separate ways. Two years went by without a sign of life from the band.
In the end, it was a chance email from Swedish promoter Sebastian Hess that caused the spark, asking the band if theyâ€™d do a one-off gig in Gothenburg. Iris always had a warm response in Scandinavia, and after thinking about it, the duo agreed to dust off the keyboards for one last show. It was a smashing success. After two encores, it became clear that there was something still there, and the seed was planted which would eventually lead to the brand new album, Radiant.
According to Jones, â€œBlacklight was a very concentrated effort, but with Radiant we let that go. There were no rules or defined objectives except to simplify the process, enjoy the creative process, and return with something we believed in.â€ The theme of starting over permeates the eleven tracks of the new album, from first single, â€œPhenommâ€ to the pressing groove of, â€œCries of Insanity.â€
Analog sounds collide with wide, spacious ambiances. Inward-looking lyrics talk of solitude and change. â€œRewired,â€ one of the most up-tempo tracks on the album, alludes to Jonesâ€™ renewed focus on animal rights issues. â€œItâ€™s a new lens weâ€™re looking through,â€ says Jones. â€œWe enjoy what weâ€™ve been given, weâ€™ve had time to gain perspective, and we also know how to make records and tour with less stress. Iâ€™ve seen other bands go through this moment in their careers, and now I guess weâ€™re old enough to enter into that. Itâ€™s a good moment for sure.â€
Sega states, â€œRadiant is the story of a man who all of a sudden sees his world within a new environment and realizes how bright and radiant it can truly be, if one looks upon it with different eyes,â€ further stating that, â€œReagan and me, we are two very different characters, just like two opposing forces. Iris is the place in which these forces unite to create something special, and when this dichotomy turns into a synergy, the result is simply something beautiful; like Radiant.â€
Iris, as a band, is difficult to pigeonhole. Mixing Depeche Mode-era synth, angular guitars, and an introspective writing style doesnâ€™t sound that unique, but itâ€™s the peculiar way in which they do it that is interesting. After almost 15 years of tweaking the recipe, and almost self-destructing along the way, the band has returned with a brand new album, Radiant. Mastered in analog by Heba Kadry at Timeless Mastering (HAERTS, Mars Volta, Trust, Future Islands), the sound is warm, complex, and spacious.
Radiant was released on Dependent Records, the same label which brought us releases from VNV Nation, Apoptygma Berzerk, Covenant, Suicide Commando, Seabound and Velvet Acid Christ, to name a few.
Photography by Dirk Eusterbrock
According to Dependent Records, Iris has been reborn, so to say, which also explains the warmth and radiant quality of the album cover, which comes in bright colors, maybe even the feeling at its core, which is best described by attributes such as, warm, flattering or harmonious. And even though the compositions carry an air of Zen-like calm and pliability, at least after several listens, Radiant captivates with one quality which many other albums in this genre lack: depth.
Not only has the band written a wonderfully relaxed electronic pop album, but also a true work of art with thick bass lines, Jonesâ€™ unique vocals and some ear-catching melodies. In correlation with the beautiful artwork, the duoâ€™s new sign of life is colorful, easily accessible and deep, nevertheless precisely not shallow like most of their competitors but fascinating in the long run while conveying the mood of an old 4AD Records masterpiece, only in an electronic, expressive way.
Radiant is this band’s crowning achievement with, “Another Way,” “Phenom” and “Sound Becomes Waves,” as the album’s shining stars. Their sound is layered now more than ever giving the entire album a ‘larger than life’ feeling to it. The album is full of superb melodies, blended harmonies and crystal clear vocals with a back to basics electropop structure layered with a thick dark atmospheric background. With Iris, the underworld of synthpop is in good hands.