red lights


Another natural beauty
from Canada

Islands - Return To The Sea
(Equator Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 18, 2006

Review by Tony Bonyata

As part of the great migration of Canadian bands into the indie rock scene, the Montreal-based collective Islands have released Return To The Sea; an eleven-track debut that proves nearly as strong as any of their Canadian contemporaries such as Broken Social Scene, Wolf Parade and The Arcade Fire (the latter two which members turned up here for guest appearances).

Led by primary members Nick Diamonds (vocals, guitar) and Jim Guthrie (guitar), Islands is a band seemingly in flux with a revolving door of different musicians. And while this duo has a tremendous knack for hammering out one infectious pop number after another, it's probably due to the varying line-ups and instrumentation that makes this album so vast and versatile.

From the Caribbean breeze that blows over the calypso-kissed "Jogging Gorgeous Summer" and country-meets-classical pop gem "Volcanoes," which wonderfully partners lap steel guitar, washboard and steak fiddle with the more refined violin, cello and bass clarinet, to the madcap dancehall pop of "Humans" and twee indie ditty "Rough Gem" this band is musically all over the place. What makes the whole package cohesive against the backdrop of competing styles and sounds are the rich melodies, infectious choruses and stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth pop goodness that grace virtually every number. Even when the band takes a slight misstep with the addition of the out-of-place rapping amid a dizzying carnival of sounds on "When There's A Will There's A Whalebone," the band gets back on track with a cool rock groove before song's end.

Perhaps it's the swelling, near-epic pop diamond "Swans (Life After Death)" which opens this collection, however, that best defines this highly promising new act. With Diamonds' aching vocals grappling with a jaunting rhythm and optimistic sunny keys that ebb and flow, the song eventually erupts into a majestic climax - complete with a loose, swaggering rhythm section and grungy battle between two lead guitars straight out of Neil Young's Crazy Horse.

While the Canadian Tourism Commission may be referring to the unspoiled beauty of their vast landscape with their pitch "Discover Our True Nature," with yet another amazing band to emerge from our northern neighbors, it seems as if their true nature these days lies in their music as much as in the beauty of their land.

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