There’s a beauty to Isaiah Navarro’s arrangement in “Juicio” from his debut EP “Ten en su Memoria,” taking me back to echoes of The Smiths’ 1987 album “Louder Than Bombs.” Eighties music didn’t always need lyrics or over-the-top synth sounds. And so, Navarro’s passion, reminiscent of yesteryear for me at least, carries through the EP’s passionate intro with a rolling piano riff, echoes of wailing guitars, a soft moaning as if in remembrance of grace and an expectation of eternal life, mixed with a heartbeat of drums and a few symbol crashes.
Navarro, 19, who is a double major at CSU Bakersfield, studying both business management and religious studies, took the title “Juicio” from words scratched in red above where a priest slept at a California mission: “Ten en su Memoria: Jucio, Infierno, y Gloria.” It means to have in your mind: Judgement, Hell, and Heaven. Heavy thoughts for an intro to an EP from such a young man, whose career began in Bakersfield indie band The Rozzes, rocking out at venues like The Gate.
Navarro’s EP doesn’t get sappy or cheesy after the intro as you might expect from many 19-year-old musician-singers. Acoustic at first, “Young,” is a simple voice-driven song about love, songs, thoughts—as expected from such a young man who is in the midst of exploring his own life. “After everything I’ve been through, I’d be a fool to think I was alone,” Navarro sings, letting us know that spirituality isn’t ever far from his core, and neither are the people in his life. It isn’t long before drums break out, paralleling the songs lyrics, taking a metaphysical path of youth and spirituality, both intertwined with young love.
“Rockbottom Girl” has a moodiness emanating from Navarro’s ability to arrange a rattlesnake-like tambourine sound with that of synth riffs, which has the effect of deep moody horns. Listen for them while Navarro tells a story of a girl who entered his life, but then escaped his arms, never to return.
“Ten en su Memoria” has a way of hooking the ear with Navarro’s sweet, innocent voice. There’s a feeling of sitting with him in a dim-lit room, sharing the wisdom of his old soul. In “Gary Cold, Man” Navarro’s words whisper, “We thought about this too much. These things we push always end up stuck in the air…” And later, “And we walked in silence too much.” The song’s electric guitar pops in from time to time, only long enough to make you want more.
“Holocene” is a cover of Bon Iver’s 2011 song. Having listened to both versions, I’m surprised I prefer Navarro’s take. Where Iver’s song has beautiful guitar and synth work, as well as haunting falsetto vocals, Navarro successfully transform’s Iver’s work into a haunting listen of his own. I almost prefer Navarro’s falsetto here than his voice-work the EP’s previous songs. With “Ten en su Memoria” as hauntingly good as it is, an entire album sung falsetto would surely be addictive.
Free Download: Ten en su Memoria EP
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