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Islands 

Return to the Sea

Wednesday, May 3 2006
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After releasing one silly-pop masterpiece in 2003, Montreal's short-lived indie stars the Unicorns vanished in a deluge of gushy critical slobber. From beneath this gooey sea, former Unicorns J'aime Tambeur and Nick Diamond have raised Islands, a new band whose lush, exotic sonic flora sprouts from an igneous crust of hardened sentiment. Return to the Sea opens with the nine-minute lo-fi panorama "Swans (Life After Death)," a lovely, tense tune that chugs along toward the same apex of pained majesty frequently achieved by scene-mates the Arcade Fire. The album then pinwheels through cabaret, calypso, synth pop, backwoods banjo-pickin', and, jarringly, experimental rap. Most of these oddball hybrids succeed without feeling gimmicky, though "Where There's a Will There's a Whalebone," an awkward collaboration with left-field L.A. rappers Busdriver and Subtitle, bursts the twee bubble just halfway through the album. Tambeur and Diamond claim to have set Paul Simon's Graceland as true north on Return's wobbling compass, and this debt is charmingly apparent on "Jogging Gorgeous Summer." It's a steel-drummed and tin-whistled ditty whose sunny sounds carry a love story that dips from sentimental to violent and back again. There's a harsh little snap and crackle to Islands' confectionary pop, and this album announces a maturity that the Unicorns never possessed.

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Frances Reade

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