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The best kept secret in music


"CD Releases: The Flaming Lips, Morrissey, Islands and More"

ISLANDS Return To The Sea (Equator/EMI)
The premature breakup of The Unicorns was one of the most disappointing in recent music history, but without it we wouldn't have Return To The Sea, a record with boundless ambition and stunning musicianship. Manchild Nick Diamonds and drummer J'aime Tambeur waste no time making an impact with opener "Swans (Life After Death)," a sprawling, hushed pop number that culminates with a superb rock-out finale. From there, a series of excellent whimsical pop tracks (highlighted by "Rough Gem") lead up to the album's masterpiece, "Where There's A Will There's A Whalebone," a dark collaboration with members of Th' Corn Gangg. On it, two furiously skilled rappers spit rhymes at lightning speed, bookended by Diamonds menacingly singing, "Laying low in a tropical hideout/If anyone finds out, we'll turn their lights out." And sure, it's a tad slow towards the end, but Diamonds still knows how to make a record so creative you won't hear another like it this year. Noah Love
- Chartattack

"Band of the Day"

By: Peter Gaston
April 5, 2006

In this accelerated media-driven world we inhabit, bands can turn from Beatles to Wings in a mere fraction of the time previously required. It's like bands go through their careers at hyperspace speeds in some space-aged, Ron Popeil-branded, time-saving apparatus. Set it and forget it!

Such is the case with Montreal's Islands, whose core members once made up two thirds of the Unicorns, the avant-popsters that incited many a calloused digit within the blogoshpere. With Islands' Return to the Sea, Nick Diamonds and J'aime Tambeur are no less quirky than in their former incarnation, but the tracks are often snappier sing-alongs, easy to digest after one listen but infused with enough intricate nuances to maintain long-term appeal.

"Rough Gem" opens with a swooning synth line that recalls the Cyndi Lauper/Prince collabo, "When You Were Mine", with all of the same cheeky sentiment: "I'm a rough gem!" Diamonds exclaims. But, for the more adventurous, there are trippy progged-out moments like the Police-on-peyote romp "Where there's a will there's a Whalebone" and the "Me & Julio" - style picnic ditty "Jogging Gorgeous Summer." - SPIN

"Islands Return to the Sea [Equator; 2006] Rating: 8.4"

After dropping their gloriously goofy and endlessly inventive 2003 LP Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?, the Unicorns became extinct. Following a brief resurrection as Th' Corn Gangg, a live side project in which Unicorns songs were recast as backing tracks for MCs like Subtitle and Busdriver, multi-instrumentalist Nick Diamonds and drummer J'aime Tambeur announced they'd soldier on without guitarist Alden Penner (née Ginger) as Islands. To prove it wasn't just another one of their bat-shit crazy antics, they leaked two mp3s: "Abominable Snow", an epic about surviving a yeti sighting, and "Flesh", which revealed a sweaty, sexy side to Diamonds' and Tambeur's songwriting. Both songs were outstanding and, just as important, sounded like the work of the Unicorns. (In fact, they were live staples in the band's last days.) But when Diamonds explained they wouldn't be on the new album and then gushed to Pitchfork about how the band's record would be, of all things, inspired by Paul Simon's Graceland, it was anybody's guess as to what Return to the Sea would actually sound like.

It turns out that, while Diamonds' Graceland references weren't just snarcastic pranks, Return to the Sea is a sprawling, gorgeous collection of pop songs that draws from disparate sources such as calypso, country, and hip-hop. The record also relies more heavily on organic sounds and structure than the Unicorns' LP did: Where Who Will Cut Our Hair rewarded listeners with unexpected eruptions in the middle of songs or flat-out rockers dropped off a sonic cliff into plaintive minor chords, Islands present a more linear approach in their arrangements. Songs like album opener "Swans (Life After Death)" propel forward, picking up steam to the point of bursting. Only after "Swans" has marinated for nearly seven minutes, for example, does Tambeur abandon his shuffling and stuttering beats for cathartic, straight-ahead drumming. Islands' charm, then, is all wrapped up in the richness of the production: unusual instrumentation and tiny flourishes create dense compositions that demand repeated listening.

For example, on "Rough Gem"-- a song so insidiously infectious that trepanation may be the only way to get it out of your head-- the main riff is begun by an understated keyboard, picked up midway by plucked violin strings, and completed by a second, more cartoonish synthesizer. All the while, Diamonds cracks puns on his name, declaring "I'm a girl's best friend/ Can you cut?/ I can cut!/ I'm a rough gem."

"Volcanoes", on the other hand, starts by layering meandering lap steel, intermittent triangle, and violins. By the chorus, those violins shed their hillbilly act to become soaring and angelic, like a melodramatic score. Against the strings, Diamonds strums chords and croons in his strained timbre, "We washed our mouths at the riverbed/ When we noticed something glowing/ It was growing/ Things are going to change," before predicting a catastrophic volcano blast that melts Alaska and turns Argentina into some kind of ice land. The lyrics are ridiculous but fun, and "Volcanoes" fittingly features the album's most explosive finale, in which all the instrumental elements that have wandered in and out of the song converge for the song's climax.

Return to the Sea is a case of Diamonds and Tambeur yanking up their anchor and setting sail for new waters, enjoying the freedoms of exploration and discovery. At no point in the record does it feel as if Diamonds is settling into any one genre or style-- hardly a surprise from this shape-shifting songwriter. It won't be a shock if, say, Diamonds and Tambeur announce 18 months from now that Islands is kaput and they're kickstarting another new band. And who really cares? As long as they continue to write songs as striking and immediate as the batch on Return to the Sea, their fans will follow them anywhere.

-John Motley, April 06, 2006 - Pitchfork


LP: Return to the Sea


Feeling a bit camera shy


Islands is a non-genre specific band from Montreal, helmed and founded by Nick Diamonds, an intuitive under dweller from the weird side of the tracks. Exploring a music best catalogued as other, in what seems a tribute to the timeless sound of great pop music, the album combines rhythms and sounds of cultures from the southern and eastern hemispheres, and even as a dash of rap. Return to the Sea was recorded in the sweaty month of July while Islands was still merely couple of lonely icebergs, not yet an archipelago. So local friends, including Richard Reed Parry, Regine Chassagne, Tim Kingsbury, Sarah Neufeld, Dan Boeckner, Spencer Krug, and l'il Mikey Feurstack lent their valiant efforts to the recording process. With the album finished, a search for the most exciting musicians in existence was on full steed in order to create Islands as you see them live today. On their travels, they encountered Patrice Agbokou, the Togo born bass player with the gift of "finger magic". Patrice's impressive resume, which included a short stint as Prince's bass player at age of 12, helped clinch the deal. Next to join were the magnificent Chow brothers, Alex and Sebastian, known to many as the 1993 and 1994 "World Super-NES-Fest" champions. Between the two of them, they play every instrument ever created, but are known to be particularly deadly on "Mario Paint Music Maker", which they play quite competently in the band. Islands wouldn't be complete without resident heartbreaker Patrick Gregoire, breathing new life into the album via his sexy bass clarinet (often foolishly mistaken for a saxophone), sometimes used as a stick with which to shake girls off. Rounding off the line-up is newest addition, Pittsburgh youngster Aaron Harris, a phenom drummer since age 5. The group also boasts two of LA's finest rappers Subtitle (Giovanni Marks) and Busdriver (Regan Farquhar). Other guests sometimes peek out from corners.