Retro fashions and sample-culture, tribute acts and cover albums – with music in the 21st century pretty much everybody sounds like somebody else. Whether a band is slipping into another genre for ‘crossover appeal’ or ‘borrowing’ a style to develop their sound, it’s a rare album that doesn’t come encumbered with a press release breathlessly citing more reference points than there are words.
Islet, though – they’re different. Somehow, despite a list of influences that probably runs into the hundreds, they don’t sound like anybody else. Tool, Youthmovies, Massive Attack and Portishead, Battles, Muse, System Of A Down, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Errors and 65 Days Of Static – they’re all in there somewhere, but at no point do the Cardiff three-piece lose their own identity, their songs lost within a photocopy of a photocopy of some other sound from some other time.
Instead, Illuminated People is, at its best, extremely exciting – the sound of a band all wild-eyed and frantic, saliva glistening on bared teeth. There’s more ambition in the fifty minutes here than most of 2011 churned forth in its entirety, each moment never far from some new experiment or idea.
Sure, they don’t always work. Opener ‘Libra Man’ sprawls with proggy time-shifts and artillery percussion but never quite impacts in the way it should, the vocals a touch too jarring and the production lacking the punch needed to hold the track together. Elsewhere some of the guitar lines – on ‘Funicular’, for example – veer perilously close to a Christian rock jangle, and the relentless movement of the thing can get a bit exhausting. “We don’t really believe in sitting on songs” said the band last October, and by god it shows, their attention apparently wavering midway through a track onto some new rhythm or melodic structure.
But it doesn’t matter: any album that can segue from the Karen O yelps of ‘This Fortune’ through to the drowsy singalong of ‘What We Done Wrong’ and the gothic howl of ‘A Warrior Who Longs To Grow Herbs’ earns a considerable measure of goodwill. And by the time it reaches the Animal Collective erraticism of ‘Shores’ and the manic carnival of closer ‘A Bear On His Own’ – a TV theme song spliced with a Nuremberg rally – well, you’d forgive Islet murder.
Heck, let’s not even begin criticising a band for trying to do too much. Illuminated People might not be perfect but it’s never anything less than interesting, and its high points – the grinding outro of ‘Entwined Pines’, the frenetic build of ‘Filia’ – are outstanding enough to warrant attention on their own. They may not yet have fully found their voice but at least Islet haven’t settled for some old and tired sound stifled by its own yawn – and hey, any rough edges that Illuminated People has quickly pale next to the sheer vigour of the thing.