Smile Politely

Islands Tonight at the IMC

Hey kids, did ya hear? “World music” is fast becoming the new hipster-approved genre of the week. A recent spate of indie rock bands like Vampire Weekend, and Yeasayer and the requisite Pitchfork best new frenzy prompted a recent Tribune article proclaiming the “fading boundaries of world music.” Freak-folk? Yesterday’s news. Bust out your marimbas. Paul Simon is the new Vashti Bunyan. Take that, Sasha Frere-Jones!

So look for Islands’ new release Arm’s Way, due out May 20th, to possibly be co-opted by this ephemeral and vaguely offensive scene/music critic fantasy. The band’s brilliant debut Return to the Sea received quite a bit of attention, partially due to its, then novel, African influences. Never mind that these minute gestures towards Graceland were jumbled amongst a throng of competing genres, including orchestral pop, prog, hip-hop, country, and a fair amount of straight-up indie rock, not to mention the tunefulness and eccentricity of lead singer/songwriter Nick Diamonds’ former band The Unicorns. Islands’ inventive debut played with genre in a way that few of their contemporaries seem capable of, carefully treading the path between pastiche and exhilaration, between absurd and sublime.

Return to the Sea managed to explore many of the possibilities inherent in the sole Unicorns release, without at all sounding like a second cousin or a side project (as so many post-breakup outfits seem to). In contrast to the disheveled hooks and mercurial twists of Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone, Return allowed its songs to breathe, employing a pristinely layered diversity of instruments. Diamonds abandons none of the charm or whimsical morbidity of his previous project; he merely expands on the palette. By doing so, Islands ended up releasing one of the more engrossing albums of the previous year. And yeah, there were congas on a few songs, and a smidgen of loosely South-African rhythm guitar. But it doesn’t take much to get sucked into a “movement” nowadays. If the bands’ new release is anything like their previous, expect Pitchfork staffers to get their native on.

Islands appear tonight at the Independent Media Center, 202 S. Broadway Ave., Urbana, with openers Headlights and hip-hopper Cornbread, Champaign’s answer to Biz Markee. The all-ages show starts at 7pm and tickets are $13 in advance, $15 at the door.

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