Much sorrow met the demise of indie-pop trio The Unicorns. Their irresistibly catchy macabre-pop won them critical praise and a cult-like following. Unfortunately, after releasing only one full-length record, the trio lapsed into a period of creative confusion that resulted in one member leaving to pursue other endeavors (Alden Gingers).
That record, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone, turned out to be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy for the band, with the final song (“Ready to Die”) effectively opening the door for their dissolution.
As unintentional as this may have been, Nick Diamonds, primary songwriter for both bands, capitalizes on this fact during the first song on “Return to the Sea”. The track’s very title- “Swans (Life After Death)” implies musical rebirth, and throughout it, homage is paid to The Unicorns. This provides the perfect transition between the two bands.
Islands maintain the same morbid yet endearing lyricism and theatrical pop sensibility as The Unicorns, but opt for a more organic sound. The unexpected electronic noodling and squawks common to Unicorns songs are absent here. But this is not to say that Diamonds sacrifices his unpredictable musical aesthetic. Islands employ quite an array of instruments and sounds, creating a record that is compelling and unique. Members of fellow Montrealians the Arcade Fire appear on several songs, adding to the broad musical palate.
The songs on Return to the Sea are varied and colorful. “Swans” is sweeping, and an epic nine minutes long. The wickedly clever “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” is a catchy little pop number. “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Whalebone” includes an odd rap segment (perhaps from The Unicorns brief incarnation as “Th’ Corn Gangg”), while “Volcanoes” has an alt. country vibe.
Though diverse, these songs fall together cohesively. The songwriting is smart, funny, and a little tender—with lines like “Millions of sunsets, but the one I’ll remember is the one where you told me you’ll love me forever” and “Sleek, sleek skeleton I hold, where are the hidden folds? Where is the meat? Did you eat it?”
Islands have made a record that is both fantastical and intimate—from the grandiose “Volcanoes” to the oddly sweet “Jogging Gorgeous Summer”. It is a surprising and delightful listen. They have emerged from the ashes of The Unicorns, a new but strangely familiar band. – (8/10)