Underdeveloped Indie-Rock with Soaring Highs and Mundane Lows
The members of Los Angeles quarter Islands (and especially frontman Nick Diamonds) were undoubtedly feeling a strong bout of inspiration when they recorded their sixth and seventh LPs—Should I Remain Here, At Sea? And Taste. However, the former contains neither the cohesion that listeners would expect from a band that separated their material into two releases, nor the experimental arrangements that have characterized most of Islands’ recordings throughout their decade-long career.
The first four tracks of the release play like a series of increasingly bold warm-ups. A flood of unremarkable clean-channel guitar and thudding, simple drumming work the listener into a malaise. Only on “Stop Me Now” does the group strike out instrumentally, adding in warm, carnival-esque synthesizers and tap-dancing-like percussion.
The next three tracks, however, comprise the release’s apex. “Innocent Man” clocks in at just over a minute and a half, but packs in a dark, clever story about trying to get a band off the ground. The song features some of Diamonds’ best lyrics of the release, such as: “That friend in your band hurts your head/and you imagine him all kinds of dead.” Furthermore, in “Innocent Man,” “Christmas Tree” and “Sun Conore,” the guitar playing finally moves away from unremarkable indie jangling. “Sun Conore” marks the transition into the third segment of the release: atmospheric, tender ballads that call to mind Band of Horses and Sturgill Simpson.
Perhaps due to Islands’ desire to release two, full-length records, Should I Remain Here, At Sea? consequently feels like three different EPs: a collection of banal, underdeveloped indie-pop snippets, a handful of beautiful, nautical-themed tracks and two brilliant, but out-of-place songs (“Innocent Man,” “Christmas Tree”). By releasing two albums at once, Islands seemed to implicitly promise listeners even more cohesive projects than if they had released one. Unfortunately, despite its brief flashes of delicacy and energy, Should I Remain Here, At Sea? sounds undeniably disorganized and distracted.