“Return To The Sea,” the debut disc by Montreal-based collective Islands, starts out on an ambitious note.At nine-plus minutes, “Swan (Life After Death)” is a risky choice for a disc-opener. With its heavy guitar riffs and odd lyrics about destruction, the track is epic in its scope but actually sets the mood of the entire record.
The largest portion of the sublime “Sea” seems to focus on the eve of destruction. On tracks such as “When There’s A Will, There’s A Whalebone,” Islands takes up with rappers Th’Corn Gangg for a track that sounds like the Roots took up with Islands’ pals The Arcade Fire.
The stand-out track on “Sea,” however, is “Rough Gem.” The track features a poppy horn-whistle hook and a chorus you’ll be singing for days. The album also features one of the funniest track titles of the year, “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby,” a reference to hip-hop’s first couple.
Islands features J’aime Tambeur and Nick Diamonds, former members of the indie-pop outfit, the Unicorns. While the Unicorns’ record, “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone” was a pop delight as well, “Sea” is far and away better produced and catchier than anything the ‘Corns ever did.
Nearly a perfect album, “Sea” refuses to falter, sticking with great, quirky pop tracks that suit the band the best. While there probably will be better albums this year, “Sea” is definitely the best so far, making a fun, easy listen for rock and pop fans alike.