Canadian duo Islands – ex-Unicorns Nick Diamonds and the oddly-named J’aime if that means anything to you – are like the neglected kid in a ridiculously talented family. They’re in awe of their older brother Arcade Fire, the intense jacket-wearing youth who writes poetry and walks round town alone, silent and anguished. You can imagine them shyly going up to father Tom Waits: “Dad, can you have a listen to my homework?” “Not now son, I’m busy,” says Daddy Waits. So Islands approaches cousin Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, who ventures that opening the album with the nine-minute ‘Swans (Life After Death)’ is perhaps not such a good idea. Grandpa Beta Band suggests that the whistling accompaniment on ‘Rough Gem’ doesn’t really work. Islands storms out in a sulk, refusing to change anything. That’ll show them.
And it nearly works. There’s lots of ideas here, though without a coherent new sound, it’s hard not to fixate on their influences. The first two tracks are very Arcade Fire, with something of Win Butler’s strained voice and – nearly – a similar type of emotional engagement (they opt instead for some mood-breaking music hall brass). ‘Where There’s a Will There’s a Whalebone’ features some manic rapping over apocalyptic synths, the kind of thing Gorillaz and The Beta Band can only just get away with; the result is confusing, but give them credit for trying.
Elsewhere, there are some fab moments. ‘Rough Gem’, the single, piles on the instruments – are those recorders?! – sounds like The Wannadies for a bit, and leaves the listener dribbling with enjoyment but not really understanding why. ‘Jogging Gorgeous Summer’ takes a plinkety sunshine reggae sound, chucks in flute and tried-and-tested indie harmonies and comes up with something rather great. ‘Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby’, a Sly reference if ever we’ve seen one (ho ho), is a jolly strumalong which begins with ‘Diamonds’ singing the merry line, “bones, bones, brittle little bones.”
No man is an island. Or: everyone is influenced by someone. Islands are influenced by more than most, but the new kid is definitely onto something.