Expertly Crafted, Undeniably Beautiful Synth-Pop
When Islands decided to release their sixth and seventh albums — Should I Remain Here, At Sea? and Taste — on the same day, they must have anticipated that listeners would be somewhat perplexed on how to consider the two works. The band’s presentation of the albums as expressions of different styles (Should I Remain Here, At Sea? as guitar-driven indie rock, Taste as synth-pop), however, does not obscure the fact that Taste undoubtedly seems to be the stronger release.
In a few concrete ways, Taste presents far richer and more captivating tracks that its partner album. First, the group’s focus on synthesizers and keyboards rather than guitars causes each of the album’s twelve tracks to possess a distinct tone. When a guitar riff does appear, it feels more like a pointed decoration than a crutch. For example, a cutting guitar solo opens up Taste’s third track, “It’s Heaven,” it directly contrasts against the song’s mellow synthesizer opening, bringing out the best in both elements. Additionally, Taste’s tracks grow and develop throughout their durations. “No Milk, No Sugar,” for example, plays like an intense club track at its opening, but later transforms into a delicate lament.
Additionally, frontman Nick Diamonds’ lyrics excel on Taste, effectively tossing out lighthearted quips and delving into heartfelt melancholy in equal measure. On “Outspoken Dirtbiker,” for example, Diamonds takes on the role of the character named in the title, confessing, “I don’t want to win anything/Every race will end.”
Such an attitude pervades much of Taste: a carefully balanced mixture of the strange and the profound, and the twee and the immediately accessible. The combination of Diamonds’ lyrical prowess with the group’s enveloping synths place Taste at a level of excellence that they have often failed to grasp since their debut Return to the Sea. Perhaps Islands needed Should I Remain Here, At Sea? to slough off excess ideas, but Taste is a better organized and more captivating by leaps and bounds.