Islands – Return to Sea

Islands – Return to Sea
Equator – 5 Stars

When I was a kid, I had a toy guitar that made really horrific noises, which some 1980s engineer probably imagined rock ‘n’ roll sounded like.  And to this day I credit it as God’s grace that my parents didn’t strangle me with the thick plastic “strings” of that guitar when I would attempt to serenade them with my versions of “Louie Louie,” “Good Vibrations,” or “Born in the USA.”
In many ways, this is exactly what Islands has done with Return to Sea.  The former members of the Unicorns have produced a record that sounds like adult music in the mind of a child and played it out note-perfect on toy instruments.  The difference between me and Nick Diamonds and J’aime Tambeur is that their inner child has managed to produce some of the most precious and perfect pop music of the year.  Every moment of Return to Sea is captivating, from the 9-minute opener “Swans (Life After Death)” to the stoned calypso of “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” to Th’ Corn Gangg’s leftover “Where There’s A Will There’s A Whalebone,” which features a pair of rappers and the thickest bassline to come out of Montreal, um, ever.
The departure of that cute curly haired child from the Unicorns (he looks like a Bobby, so we’ll go with that…okay, Alden Penner) apparently left the remaining ‘Corns with loads of creative running room, and, as it turns out, they are apparently a big fan of Paul Simon circa “Cecilia.”  From top to bottom it’s as if some crazy Canadian beach party has broken out, with Canucks two-stepping all over the sand.  Diamonds keeps careful watch from his lifeguard stand, hair oh-so-perfectly shading one side of his face while he muses mournfully (though with a bit of a grin) about cannibals, bones, ghosts, etc.  That’s part of the brilliance of Return to Sea; even though the music has matured, Diamonds does not stray from the youthful subjects of the Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone.  While the finished mashup makes little to no sense, the bizarre lyrics and melancholy delivery keep things from sailing into Jimmy Buffett’s waters.
Rest assured, this is not the only review that you will read of Return to Sea, and you should be prepared to see more references to the Unicorns than you can stomach.  But where the Unicorns fell short by alienating people with their Casio keyboards and too-cute album art, Islands grows up just enough to be the best scene that Wes Anderson deleted from The Life Aquatic.  If ever there were a beach record for the Pitchfork set, this were it (not that any of those people go outside or, like, wear shorts or anything so pedestrian as that).

Nick Diamonds has graduated from scribbling all over the page with crayon to coloring within the lines with colored pencil.

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