It is not everyday that the dead return to life. Yet despite the “surprise” demise of obscure indie rockers the Unicorns in early 2005, band members Nick Diamonds and J’aime Tambour are once again revitalizing the experimental music scene in their new band, Islands.
The Unicorns drifted into unconventional noise and rhythm quite a bit before their dissolution. Islands picks up where the Diamonds and Tambour team left off, forcing us to draw a number of critical comparisons between the two groups. Both share an unusual obsession with death imagery, catchy hooks and wild experimentation. There is a lot more pop catchiness here than in Unicorns’ albums, but the duo drifts off into space on occasion. Return to the Sea is a much more traditional album, with many songs that might be confused for pop hits. In “Jogging Gorgeous Summer,” Diamonds offers the super sweet lines, “Millions of sunsets but the one I’ll remember / is the one where you told me you’ll love me forever.” Steel drums and cuica set a smooth tropical tone alongside the odd – but decidedly fitting – sounds of the recorder.
Sticking to his guns, Diamonds also offers his signature silly pop songs about the gruesome and grotesque. In “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby,” Diamonds references “the sleek skeleton I hold.” On “Rough Gem,” he happily croons, “You can scoop out my brain / shape it into an ear and then tell me your pain” to the sound of soothing melodies that drop only slightly as he sings, “Dig deep, but don’t dig too deep / When it’s late, you’ll see the whole is empty / And oh so deadly.” To the darker beat of “Humans,” Diamonds laments, “The tree, it fell on all the people / Who gathered there to watch it topple.”
Islands definitely live up to the promise that we first saw in Diamonds and Tambour circa the Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone material. It’s always a treat to find a band that really stimulates your mind in a way you have never really felt before and Islands does just that – carving out a niche of novelty songwriting that will hopefully never die out.
[Welcome to the dark side Brian Van Wyk]