Ontario’s Mappe Of, an avant-folk project by Tom Meikle, returns in 2019, two years after his debut, 2017’s A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone. On The Isle of Ailynn, Mappe Of delivers a more conceptually driven album as well as a more theatrically epic album. It is a progression from his past work as an artist, a promising sophomore venture into a fantasy world ripe for exploration.
The Isle of Ailynn begins with water-distorted vocals accompanied by plucking guitar strings, an acoustic accompaniment that from the start gives off a rich and filling fantasy aesthetic. “I woke up with a gasp and my lungs fill with water,” are the words that begin this epic tale of escapism and exploration. Each song title represents a person or place in the world that Meikle has created; he dares you to follow the narrator into the great unknown. Halfway through the opening track, “Estuary,” we are introduced to orchestral instrumentals, cymbals and grand percussion and other classical instrumentals to add to the otherworldly fantasy atmosphere. As the song moves along, we become acquainted to a secondary character advising the narrator in his travel to Ailynn, the capital city of the Isle and the next song.
“Estuary” flows so naturally into “Ailynn” that they feel very attached and lend to the idea of travel and progression. On “Ailynn,” Meikle displays the range of his vocals, giving a soaring delivery to, “All these sacred temples crumbling down, I never knew this place to be so violent, so cruel to the comings of strangers.” The vocals on this album are produced so well, whether it be to distinguish between characters and environments, or just to display the epic nature of Meikle’s performance.
The soaring vocals come as a highlight in the album; moments of expressive musical talent, they stand out in an album that is easy to get lost into. This is one fault of the album — not that Mappe Of is biting off more than he can chew, but rather these extremely high points along the album, the most distinct moments, are so spread out that it does feel at times as if one is wading through the bush to get to each next destination. This makes understanding the story of The Isle of Ailynn harder to grasp in just one sitting: that of a single father dealing with the loss of his partner and working to survive in a lost and forgotten world. The vastness of the album is also a positive as it inspires you to keep moving and to keep exploring.
The Isle of Ailynn is a journey, following in the footsteps of the fantasy epics from which Meikle takes inspiration and taking the unnamed narrator through a myriad of locations accompanied by an airy, folksy backdrop. The instrumentals are for the purpose of fleshing out the environment, displaying the narrator’s emotions, and giving further context for Ailynn’s expansive world. Opening the song “Unkno” is a wispy wind sound effect, whipping and nipping at the ears, and coming through this are little electronic beeps peeking through the natural sounds. This juxtaposition symbolizes reality sneaking through the fantasy. This is the first instance of these modern electronic sounds appearing on the album and the implications further solidify the themes of escapism, the broken father traveling into an artificial world to escape tragedy. While this concept isn’t entirely original, Meikle’s musical interpretation on this idea is a novel take, breathing life into a cliched story.
In an effort not to spoil the story any further I’ll leave off on that. The Isle of Ailynn is worthy of a listen for its conceptual and avant-garde nature. The production on the “natural” instrumentals is both crisp and airy and the use of woodwind, brass, and strings instruments is done well to add a lively atmosphere to the world that Mappe Of has created. While the highest of points on the album are spread out, and the premise of the story isn’t exactly novel, listeners can walk away from this album feeling fulfilled, as the themes are universal and human, and the conclusion gives a nice feeling of closure.
Recommended If You Like: Lief Vollebekk, S. Carey, Valley Maker
Recommended Tracks: 1 (Estuary), 2 (Ailynn), 5 (Unkno), 9 (Faesulae)
Do Not Play: None
Written by Matt Stratton on 12/06/2019