Return To The Sea


Equator, 2006

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


Though this is the debut album for Islands, they're hardly newcomers to the music scene; Islands is the rebirth of The Unicorns, a Canadian indie band founded in 2000 that released three albums before imploding and scattering into different directions. Islands was formed by vocalist Nicholas Thorburn (alias Nick Diamonds) and Jamie Thompson (J'aime Tambeur) on drums. The rest of the band features a constantly rotating roster of players, including Sarah Neufeld and Richard Perry on violin and upright bass, from The Arcade Fire.

Return To The Sea is erratic, to say the least. Or, according to Diamonds, "more diverse and sprawling and ambitious." It leaps from calypso to spurts of rock that can only be described as jaunty and then to hip-hop for a brief interlude. Only a few seconds into this album, I had a friend question why I was listening to space-age alien techno; thankfully, that's one genre Islands has left out.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The disc opens with "Swans (Life After Death)," a swirling, epic track with gorgeously messy orchestration. It's a somewhat unlikely opener, clocking in at over nine minutes, but Islands make it work with their mix of quietly effective, plaintive lyrics and soaring soundscapes.

Islands never seem to stay rooted down for long, though, reworking the feel set by "Swans" into the strangely bouncy ode to the destruction of civilization, "Humans." The starkly haunting lyrics are offset by music that would've sounded right at home in The Arcade Fire's debut, Funeral.

Next up is "Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby," which, even though it's lacking a chorus like the entire disc, is instantly catchy regardless, cheerful even with its refrain, "Bones, bones, brittle little bones / It's not the milk you seek / It's the sun you need."

"Rough Gem," which is beginning to garner airplay, is another notable point of Return To The Sea, whose main riff is played by almost-cartoon synths, keyboards and plucked violin strings throughout the song's length. Meanwhile, Diamonds plays on his own nickname with lyrics like "They want me raw and smooth like glass / They want it fast but they don't want flaws / I'm a girl's best friend / Can you cut, I can cut, 'cause I'm a rough gem."

Other standouts are "Jogging Gorgeous Summer," the aptly-titled foray into calypso; the lazily paced, mellow "If" and "Ones," which ends the album with a dark, almost Radiohead feel with crashing symbols and ending with the line "We all live in our heads, our legs, our toes, our eyes, our throats, homes…" before a long fadeout.

The best thing about Islands is that they're always charting new waters, never anchoring Return To The Sea for too long before searching out new ground. It's definitely an enjoyable ride.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Equator, and is used for informational purposes only.