The core of the London-based band comprises multi-instrumentalist Ian Kellett and vocalist Hazel Sainsbury, the two songwriters, with Alex Knell and Liam MacManus adding instrumental support. After barely two years gigging the quartet has now completed their self-titled debut.
Island Line opens with the lilting In My Dreams, which rides a melodic folk pop arrangement to good effect with Sainsbury’s vocals hovering nicely low down in the mix (strangely, this is the only time this trick is played on the album).
It is a pleasant surprise to then hear Kellett’s folksy vocals providing the ideal counterpoint to Sainsbury’s light tones on the follow-up track Just Like The Old Days. Listeners could be forgiven for thinking that Richard Thompson had stepped into the studio, but the track works its own strange magic.
At some point on this album the listener is going to be reminded of Beth Orton, and Sweetheart is where the resemblance between Norwich’s folk/dance bard and Sainsbury really becomes apparent. There is that same languid tailing off from vocal lines and the surprise little yelps into a higher register. All the same, the track boasts a beautiful melody and is radio friendly enough to have gained some nationwide exposure.
After the featherweight flutters of Window the album segues into Punchbag, the most immediate track after the aforementioned Sweetheart. Island Line don’t really do gritty but they give it a damn good try here, managing to include a tambourine in the arrangement without making it sound cheesy. The same can be said of the countryish Another Place, the current single from the album, which uses a beautiful pedal steel guitar and a skittery rhythm straight out of the Nashville songbook.
The most overtly folk song on the album is Saturday, which pairs Sainsbury’s vocals to good effect with a delicately plucked acoustic guitar. The downbeat melancholy of the lyric is exquisitely folk as well, spinning a deft tale of loss and regret.
A sudden burst of electric guitar introduces Love & Grief, but after this opening the track strays far too close to Orton territory for comfort. Wake Me Up is far more effective, with its acoustic riff and pedal steel accompaniment creating a haunting ambience.
The hand claps on Days Like These are enough to make any self-respecting rock fans run away with their hands over their ears, but Sainsbury and Kellett carry this particular hoedown with their heartfelt vocals.
The album somewhat tails off on the final two tracks Remember How and Didn’t Know How, two atmospheric but lightweight numbers that are overshadowed by what has gone before.
Curiously, Island Line is pushing this album primarily as download only (with limited physical copies available from their MySpace site). It cries out to be heard on crackly vinyl to add an extra layer of atmosphere to what is a highly impressive debut.