The music industry is a mess. Your band has almost no chance of ‘getting big’, and no guarantee of making money even if it does. So why not make yourself answerable to as few people as possible, and knuckle down to making the kind of music you want to hear? That’s what [a]Islet[/a] have done since forming in Cardiff in 2009, and that’s what makes ‘Illuminated People’ – their debut album, following two half-hour EPs – an affecting, often exciting record.
The theme of communal self-sufficiency linked with [a]Islet[/a] since their first slivers of attention is a little overcooked. This album is co-released by Turnstile, whose roster features the not-exactly-unknown [a]Los Campesinos![/a], [a]Girls[/a] and [a]Gruff Rhys[/a]; they’ve played Primavera and other sizeable festivals and, well, they’re getting a big review in NME. It’s pleasing to report, however, that on ‘Illuminated People’ their percussive rave-ups, infinite loops of guitar and vocal and electronic FX, all spattered Pollock-style onto the canvas, still sounds intense and impulsive.
There’s a genuine feeling of personality and warmth from songs such as ‘What We Done Wrong’, an unusually poppy turn driven by an undulating synth riff, or ‘Filia’, with its weave of earworm post-punk guitar and rumbling bassy noise. Islet make being in a band look terrific, achievable fun, and ‘Illuminated People’ does a creditable job of replicating the sweat, volume and improvisation of their must-see live shows.
It’s not all ‘fun’ in the hyperactive neon sense of the word, you understand. ‘A Warrior Who Longs To Grow Herbs’ (and why not?) has a gothily reverbed Emma Daman wailing “Oh, PLEASE come home” over murky psychedelic basement rock. ‘We Bow’ follows it up with their least likely turn yet: wispy, hermetic lo-fi with Mark Thomas muttering like a Welsh Ian Curtis. The vaguely African guitar line of ‘Shores’ fools you into thinking it’s going to be a perma-grinning bouncing baby – until it swiftly morphs into a clanking symphony of undanceable gloom.
Nearly every song here has a melodic sensibility that helps to explain why Islet have accrued an audience, without searching too hard for one. Sometimes they choose to bury these melodies in fuzz and surrealism, but they still glow from within. The album’s a success on the most important terms – Islet’s own – but it’d be nice if the wider world could step inside their mindset, all the same. They’re a model of how a left-leaning rock band ought to conduct themselves in 2012.