Islands – Should I Remain Here, At The Sea? / Taste

  • Cole Faulkner posted
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Should I Remain Here, At The Sea? / Taste - Manque Music

Montreal indie-pop mainstays Islands know how to write a catchy earworm.  Ever since 2008’s infectious single, “Creeper,” their accessible brand of catchy tunes have maintained a quiet status as a personal guilty pleasure amongst my other brasher mainstays.  Having tidily wrapped up their fifth studio full length after a quiet departure from ANTI- Records, the band has opted to tackle the ambitious career decision of the double album.  While many double album excursions can seem indulgent and excessive, Islands embarks with purpose.  

One disc, Should I Remain Here, At The Sea?, is intended as the spiritual successor to the band’s debut album, Return to the Sea, whereas the companion disc, Taste, has been termed the “more electronic” and experimental counterpart.  A marked difference divides both albums, with the former harkening back to Islands’ chorus heavy indie pop, and the latter experimentally propelled by drum machines and vintage synths.  Based on the continuity and thematic approach of each album, the tracks certainly warrant the divide, but as one might expect from a double effort, a clear front runner eventually emerges.

Should I Remain Here, At The Sea? defines itself as the boldest of the duo.  Consisting of ten succinct tracks guitar driven track, Islands hammer home their clearest example of mid-tempo indie pop driven by the forceful fragility of Nick Thorburn’s unmistakable vocals.  Opener “Back Into It” confidently takes its stride with a jovial skip in each step, marked by the upbeat singalong chorus of a band playing to its strengths.  “Fear” follows with a little lyrical pomp and the grabbing recurring phrase, “a dream is a lie, you wake up when you die” – the type of loaded little statement sure to wind up a listener’s gears.  Other fun and breezy little numbers like “Innocent Man” and “Right To be Misbegotten” surface throughout, ensuring the energy level remains steady between some of the more artistic pitstops.  For instance, the tap dancing rhythms of the rather somber “Stop Me Now,” and percussively absent, vocally driven little ditties of “Christmas Tree” serve as industrious thinkers that highlight Islands’ nuanced nature.  In other words, Should I Remain Here, At The Sea? is a solid effort from start to finish – representative of a sound that Islands has skillfully honed for over a decade.

By comparison, Taste takes more risk, sacrificing familiarity and safety in favour of new sounds and ideas.  As one might expect, the direction is less defined, with the band venturing further down the rabbithole from track to track.  “Charm Offensive” offers a warm welcome with the satisfying sizzle and circuited pulse of guiding synth beats.  The soundboard firmly stands on display as Islands ushers in an early instrumental bridge before launching into the more typically vocal heavy choruses.  Similar moments like “Cool Intentions” and “The Weekend” buzz and hum like the synth-driven counterparts to Should I Remain Here, At The Sea?’s upbeat selections.  “The Joke” features a rare but energizing rhythm, kept time by the patterned acceleration of a readily snapping drum machine.  Showdown-like urgency heightens the early atmosphere in an 80’s action movie-esque type way, delivering on the promise of the “vintage synth” focus – you’d half expect Jean Claude Van Damme to burst out from behind a brick wall in a dank alleyway and lay the smackdown on some mullet sporting thugs.  

But sadly, Taste is slow to start and doesn’t throw caution to the wind nearly often enough.  When the tempo relaxes, Islands’ vision and direction also loosens, making tracks like “Pumpkin” and “Carried Away” more of meandering electronic tangents than clear thoughts.  Only after seven songs does “Snowflake” steers the album back on track, effectively breaking new ground with the aforementioned album highlights.

While Should I Remain Here, At The Sea? emerges as the clear front runner, Taste remains a worthwhile, albeit flawed, experiment.  Put differently, Should I Remain Here, At The Sea? is the main course fans will lick the plate over, and Taste is the exotic layered dessert that succeeds in some spoonfuls more than others.  Either way, neither release undermines the existence of the other, meaning that Islands have successfully released a purposeful double album each with a unique dynamic within the indie quartet’s growing discography.  

Should I Remain Here, At The Sea? earns a 4/5, while Taste holds its own with a solid 3/5, and together a combined score of 3.5/5.