It was a bittersweet thing when The Unicorns disbanded in 2004 after releasing one of the most fun records by anyone, ever. The trio’s paths diverged. Alden Penner trucked on as a solo artist before forming Clues a few years later, while Nicholas Thorburn and Jamie Thompson kept ‘er lit, forming two groups at once – the short-lived hip-hop outfit Th’ Corn Gangg, and Islands. One thing that was clear from Islands’ debut Return To The Sea and their subsequent run of records was that The Unicorns’ eccentricities, about-turns, and canny knack for an earworm were as much down to his colleagues – and Thorburn in particular – as they were Penner.
This is officially their seventh release, one of two albums being released simultaneously by the band. The other is the more electro-oriented Taste, album number six – our review for which here you check out here. Recorded in the same studio in the same summer in Toronto, they’re twinned but yet…not. It’s not a double album. It’s not an album ‘proper’ with a collection of odds’n’sodds tacked on to cash in. This is two standalone albums, released on the same day, because that’s how Islands roll these days. But we’re not about the business of Taste in this review.
Islands describe Should I Remain Here At Sea? as “a spiritual sequel” to their debut, and it’s almost impossible to see it as anything but; a return to the infectious indie exuberance of their 2006 album after the more romantically sanguine A Sleep & A Forgetting and subsequent Ski Mask in recent years. Appropriately, then, summery power pop springs forth straight off the bat with ‘Back Into It’sand its ‘Boom! Boom boom, cha!’ welcome of “Those songs we used to sing/ We haven’t sung them in so long/ I’ll sing one with you now”.
It’s something of a bipartite record, as a joyous, raucous first half seems to take a detour into a more tempered melancholia after the flamenco stomp of ‘Innocent Man’. ‘Stop Me Now’ is more like something The dBs might knock up, eccentric and anglocentric, ambling along with Thorburn announcing that “All your boyfriends tears/Could make me cum for years” Okay, maybe The dBs wouldn’t go that far, but still. ‘Fear’, conversely, flirts with math rock in the chiming discord of the opening riff, with a typically morbid/comedic “A dream is a lie/ You wake up when you die.”
‘Right To Be Misbegotten’ comes on like The Wave Pictures covering ‘Cold Blooded Old Times’ before Thorburn’s breathy vocal arrives, later imparting “Unrehearsed, unrefined/ I’ve got the microphone but nothing comes to mind.” Hold on there, mate…you’ve just released two genre- divergent albums on the same day. Take everything this man says with a pinch of sea salt. Should I Remain Here At Sea? is indeed a fine bedfellow to its nautically-named 2006 predecessor – perhaps a bookend to Islands as we know them? The electro currents of the album they’ve released simultaneously with this may prove too strong to resist for the restless Thorburn. Justin McDaid