"The Unicorns turned out one album and one EP before shattering, reforming under a different name, shattering again, and scattering into other bands.
Hopefully the Isands will stick around longer than its mother band, because "Return to the Sea" is an outstanding debut album. Living up to their name, the Islands produce a flowing, fuzzy kind of pop, flavoured with calypso and dancehall music. Imagine Sufjan Stevens on a Caribbean kick, and you have the general idea.
It opens with soft flashes of synth, and some twangy guitar strings being plucked in a rather moody way. As "Swans (Life After Death)" kicks into its catchy folk melody, the eerie synth adds an otherworldly feeling. Nick Diamond croons a song about being reborn on a tropical island, and discovering the joys of being in this beautiful place.
Then they veer into the wonderfully expansive "Humans," which sounds like music-hall piano mixed with a brass band. After that, the band experiments with other kinds of island-folk sounds: bouncy guitar pop, dense folky psychedelica, exotic experimental music, breathless psychedelic rap, and sunny calypso-flavoured pop.
If you ever got shipwrecked on a Caribbean Island with an Elephant 6 band, it might sound -- and feel -- a little like the Islands' debut. Just about any combination of folk, calypso and psychedelica you can imagine will be on "Return to the Sea," done with such polish and confidence that it feels like a band that's been around forever.
Their music is controlled and tight, but with a sunny, giddy little pop edge. They effortlessly mishmash styles (classical and blippy keyboard?), mostly folky, also some dabbles in hip-hop and dense proggy electronica. The songs are seamless meshes of folky guitar, blippy keyboard, buzzing analog synth, swelling violin, kettle drums, and whatever else you can imagine.
Diamond has a rather odd voice -- a little off-key, but still quite pleasant. And he can trip out the slightly morbid lyrics ("Bones, bones/brittle little bones"), written with a flair for description. "Swans sung songs/Till the morning dawned on us/And the sun-smudged peach moon still hung loose..."
The Islands are a pretty new band, but they don't sound like it in their polished debut "Return to the Sea," which sounds like Sufjan Stevens jamming in the Caribbean."
A bit of a lark
S. O'boyle | Dublin | 11/28/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Somewhere between "The Pixies" and "The Flaming Lips". Love the way they dont take themselves too seriously. Great little album if you are driving to the beach."
Shane Carpenter | Los Angeles, CA USA | 02/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw Islands open for Metric at the Fonda in Hollywood. they put on an awesome show - complete with a flaming guitar, a 8+ person music ensemble, and most importantly - excellent music. this CD has steadily grown on me, and is now one of my favorites. thank you, Islands."
This music is... fun?
D. Davidson | Portland, OR | 12/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This CD is a bit "out there", and thus is not accessible to every audience. For example, if you have friends that listen to pop music all the time, they aren't going to be able to pop this in their CD players and enjoy it (I could be wrong here of course and this is a gross generalization). The feeling of this CD seems carefree and happy at times, and it reminds me of the way listening to Animal Collective makes me feel.
Criticism of the "rap" in "Where There's A Will, There's a Whalebone" seems uncalled for in my opinion. It's not like this is a hip-hop CD, and the disjointed sound is obviously what they were going for.
All in all, this is a great CD. But, one last note: I wasn't previously a fan of The Unicorns, so I didn't have the "hey, this doesn't sound like The Unicorns at all!" disappointment I see in here. So, if you are a fan of The Unicorns, just keep in mind that this isn't their latest CD under a different badge."