ISLANDS, "Return to the Sea"
You cannot deny the indelible footprint the Elephant Six collective left on the indie pop landscape in the last half of the '90s.You cannot deny the indelible footprint the Elephant Six collective left on the indie pop landscape in the last half of the '90s. But if your recollection of their influence, traces of which can be heard on the records of the Shins, Rilo Kiley and even the last couple of Flaming Lips joints, is foggy, allow Montreal's Islands to give you a refresher course on their outstanding debut album, "Return to the Sea."
Created by Nick Diamonds and J'aime Tambeur, formerly of the annoying noise rock combo the Unicorns, the duo's current sonic incarnation favors melody over mayhem, and all the better for it. Their sound is definitely more on the more pastoral side, sometimes coming off like a Jon Brion-produced Elf Power, especially when you sink your teeth into the album's epic seven-plus minute opener, "Swans (Life After Death)" and the alternate version of "Bucky Little Wing" that's tacked on at the end.
At other times, "Sea" winds up recalling what Mecury Rev's "Deserter's Songs" might've sounded like if it was produced by RJD2 instead of Dave Fridmann, thanks to the quirky rhythms of multi-instrumentalists and one time World Super NES Fest champs the Chow Brothers. But rather than simply emulating their heroes, Islands stay true to the adventure of rock'n'roll by throwing more than their share of curveballs at the listener here.
West Coast underground griot kingpins Busdriver and Subtitle spit hot fire onto "Volcanoes," the album's most rugged arrangement. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, "Return to the Sea" also features the likes of Brooklyn's only real folk progeny, James R. Guthrie, making good on the roots he inherited from Grandpa Woody and Uncle Arlo here as well. -- Ron Hart