Return to the Sea

Studio Album by released in 2006
Return to the Sea's tracklist:
Swans (Life After Death)
Humans
Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby
Rough Gem
Tsuxiit
Where There's a Will There's a Whalebone
Jogging Gorgeous Summer
Volcanoes
If
Ones
Bucky Little Wing

Return to the Sea review

Rhythms and sounds of cultures in the southern and eastern hemispheres

After dropping their gloriously goofy and endlessly inventive 2003 LP Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?, Montreal's experimental pop group the Unicorns became extinct. Fans of the quirky pop collective shouldn't fret, though; turns out the phoenix isn't the only mythological creature that can rise from the ashes. Following a brief resurrection as Th' Corn Gangg, a live side project, multi-instrumentalist Nick Diamonds and drummer J'aime Tambeur announced they'd soldier on without guitarist Alden Penner as Islands. With their debut, Return to the Sea, Diamonds and Tambeur are back – and arguably better than ever. The album combines rhythms and sounds of cultures in the southern and eastern hemispheres, as well as a dash of rap. Return to the Sea was recorded in the sweaty month of July while Islands was still merely a couple of lonely icebergs, not yet an archipelago. So local friends, including Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry and Sarah Neufeld, Regine Chasagne, Tim Kingsbury, Dan Boeckner, Spencer Krug, and Jim Guthrie lent their valiant efforts to the recording process. As a result Islands have crafted a rich, exciting, and emotionally deep sounding album.

Islands haven't lost any of the sunshine-addled spark that the Unicorns had

The Unicorns were a lo-fi, experimental car crash of a band, equal parts whimsy and exuberance; Islands are a much more adult and measured experience with a much cleaner sound and more classic arrangements (lots of strings, accordions, standup bass, and pianos to go with the cheap synthesizers). Diamonds' voice is much less whimsical; he now conveys his slightly off-kilter lyrics with more emotion and honesty. Despite the changes, the group hasn't lost any of the sunshine-addled spark that the Unicorns had, as songs like the whirling Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby or Jogging Gorgeous Summer clearly demonstrate. The trippy Volcanoes, the indie psych/hip-hop mash-up featuring the rhyme skills of Subtitle and Busdriver, or the epic-length psychedelic singalong Swans (Life After Death) that opens the record so nicely show that the band hasn't lost their ambition, either. Ones itself has more big-hearted ambition and dramatic power than most bands could dream of unleashing. The lovely instrumental Tsuxiit or the sweetly pop-rocking Rough Gem sound like the work of another band entirely, and indeed all of these comparisons to the Unicorns are ultimately irrelevant.

Return to the Sea is a sprawling, gorgeous collection of pop songs

Even though nobody would have really complained if Islands had taken the easy route and churned out Who Will Cut Our Hair v. 2.0, Diamonds and Tambeur, to their credit, opted for something a little more ambitious. Return to the Sea is a huge step up from their previous work in both scope and maturity. The playfulness and sense of humor that won the Unicorns a boatload of fans is still there, but it's enveloped by a broader, more polished sound. Return to the Sea is a sprawling, gorgeous collection of pop songs that draws from disparate sources such as calypso, country, and hip-hop. Diamonds and Tambeur are yanking up their anchor and setting sail for new waters, enjoying the freedoms of exploration and discovery. At no point in the record does it feel as if Diamonds is settling into any one genre or style – hardly a surprise from this shape-shifting songwriter. As long as Islands continue to write songs as striking and immediate as the batch on Return to the Sea, their fans will follow them anywhere. Islands' debut album is an indie rock triumph!

(18.04.2006)
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