Islands – “Return to the Sea”Islands is the resurrected project of former Unicorns Nick Diamonds and J’aime Tambeur, and it’s full of all the same odd sounds, melodic breaks and quirky lyrics as its prior project. The press release reports that the two started making music again after having their parts cut from the Woody Allen film “Melinda and Melinda.”
The Unicorns made a name for themselves as the kings of quirky. There songs started and stopped at odd times, had wierd time signatures and featured a bevy of instruments and sounds. The lyrics veered from the self-referencing (“I Was Born A Unicorn), to the ridiculous (“Let’s Get Known”). They also toured with a little known band called The Arcade Fire.
Unlike the Unicorns, though, Islands demonstrates a sense of maturity and exploration without denying its obvious quirks.
The band features a revolving cast of musicians, with Tambeur and Diamonds at the center. Banjos, saxophones violins permeate the mix, making many of the songs sound like a good ol’ hoedown.
On “When There’s a Will, There’s a Whalebone,” Islands experiments with deep funk and hip-hop grooves while still retaining an almost Beatles-like sense of melody.
In the same style, “Rough Gem” is a rollicking pop track that’s just waiting to be used in a car commercial.
Lyrically, celebration in the face of impending doom seems to resonate through the entire record. Titles like “Whalebone,” and “Volcanoes,” Diaminds’ writing style often reads like an elementary school book report.
On stage, Islands looks something like a rolling carnival. Band members are multicultural, dress in all white and, with Nick Diamonds’ bowl cut, look like the happiest third-graders you’ve ever seen.
Islands is a notoriously secretive band, but if its live shows and “Return to the Sea” are any indication, people will be talking about it soon enough.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Show Your Bones”
The hype surrounding the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ latest release, “Show Your Bones,” hit critical mass sometime around mid-March, when, even though they weren’t even in Texas, taxicabs in Austin started advertising the album on their ride receipts during South by Southwest.
Since then, every major media outlet has written about the band, from Spin to the Washington Post, mostly about the eccentric good looks of lead singer Karen O. In fact, it’s hard to find an article about the band that doesn’t use the terms “sexuality,” “beauty,” or “goddess.” The hype machine looms large over the Yeahs.
But how is the music?
The short answer is, it’s okay. Most of the band’s notoriety outside of its home base of New York comes from its all-too-good single “Maps,” off of 2003’s “Fever To Tell.” “Bones” expands on the sonic sledgehammer sounds of “Maps, but never quite captures the magic of its career-making single.
The lead-off track, “Gold Lion,” is the strongest track on the album, combining buzz-cut riffs with a snarling delivery, but the album quickly loses steam with the second track, “Way Out.” It’s here that Karen O lets the cards drop and reveals her most obvious influence, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Joan Jett.
The album loses its path until “Mysteries,” midway through the disc. Here, the band returns to the quick-hit riffs and punkisms that seem to work best for them.
“What could have been” permeates the record. Guitarist Nick Zinner gained some notoriety for programming the electronics for Bright Eyes’ album, “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn,” last year, but doesn’t seem to employ his considerable talents to the band’s greatest good here, opting instead to just be a mere guitar player.
In the wake of apparently more earnest bands like Rilo Kiley, “Show Your Bones” comes just a few years too late, leaving the listener underwhelmed.