The great thing about having so many members in your band is that the amount of creativity becomes both convergent and divergent to create an amazing collection of songs, which is exactly the case for Philadelphia’s Illuminea (formerly Illumina).
Originally a duo of Jen Appel and Marc Goodman, the band has been steadily adding new members since 2001 to fill its current roster of eight very talented musicians. Similar to efforts by contemporary chamber pop bands The Arcade Fire and Margot And The Nuclear So & So’s, Illuminea has tried to include every instrument imaginable “to make any sort of craddy sound and put them all together” (Marc).
The band’s songwriting duties are split between the founding members Jen and Marc along with longtime friend and third original member Minna Choi. The weird thing about this arrangement is that the songs (at least on this sophomore album) done by each author are noticeably different. You can tell which songs someone else does, but that’s not to say it’s a wholly bad thing.
It may be only slightly distracting to hear the opening track “In Retrospect” with its gritty angst-filled lyrics followed by the DeVotchKa-like “Living In Sin” with its suicide inducing instrumental melody, similar to a swan song that you’re waiting for its end so that you can instinctively clap, but instead hold your hands out in endless animation ready to smack them together at a moment’s silence. The fact that the two songs connect is commendable and surprising.
There are a few songs where you can spot contemporary influences on the band. Rilo Kiley seems to have a small part in the very playful “Homewrecker” while Guster pops up a bit in the watching-birds-while-having-a-picnic-in-the-park “Build Your Own.”
Themes of loneliness and loss recur throughout the album. The back-to-back ballads “Sugaring” and “To Lose You As A Friend” reveal in the former a youthful innocence to love lost with the latter a depressive hole-in-your-heart feeling to true love lost. The unexpected up-tempo, tension-filled, and female revenge-driven “Sleep It Off” follows. It’s unlike any other song on the album, and somewhat purposefully placed in the album’s midpoint as if showing the peak of emotional frustration and the calm after the storm since much of the album’s latter songs can be best described as serene and maybe optimistic (depending on how you see it).
Illuminea invited many of the its friends to contribute to Out of Our Mouths and the result is a multitude of sounds and ideas directed toward the experiences that love creates. While it may not be the most unified approach to expressing love’s craziness, it might just have love’s most accurate reflection.
Listen to “Homewrecker”.