I loved The Unicorns a great deal when I heard their “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone”, and to hear that some of the members of that band are in the Islands, I began to get excited about “Return to the Sea”. The album breaks away from the traditional pop act sound by incorporating a number of vocalists as the focal point of the band. In this sense, the band is much more like The Polyphonic Spree. During tracks like “Swan (Life After Death)”, the band crafts a style of music that parallels the output of bands like The Boy Least Likely To. This means that the band pushes heavily on earlier styles of music. However, the band hits their creative high with the mis-named “Rough Gem”.
The track is perhaps one of the best pop tracks of the last twenty-five years, with a dominant synthesizer and set of vocals struggling for dominance. Islands throw in an ever-present bass line during the track, and seal up the fact that this will be what individuals will be singing all throughout the summer. This is better than the aforementioned Polyphonic Spree, but it is also better than classic acts like The Police; this is music that talks to individuals from 1 to 81. The songs on “Return to the Sea” have all a very similar sound, but cover a wide array of different genres and eras. Where Islands breaks free from the general sound of the disc is “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Whalebone”.
In this track, a rap style mixes with a Talking Heads-like disregard for the audience to create something that resembles the stream of consciousness writings of Pynchon and the like. Islands even throws in a tropical sound for their “Joggin Gorgeous Summer”. The jumping around through different hoops would seem to be mere hackery for any less-talented band, but Islands show that they have their chops by continually re-envisioning their sound. “Return To The Sea” may actually be a more solid album than anything that The Unicorns put out. The tracks are all ready for radio, even considering the fact that extreme through time, space, and genre to come up with something that is both musically interesting and intense. Here’s to hoping that Islands stay together a little longer than The Unicorns did, and that they are able to expand upon the music of “Return to the Sea”.
Top Tracks: Rough Gem, Joggin Gorgeous Summer
Islands – Return to the Sea / 2006 Equator / 11 Tracks / http://www.islandsareforever.com / http://www.equatormusic.ca / Reviewed 08 June 2006