Every now and then a band comes along to fill a gap in the indie rock scene we never even knew was there. With a strong DIY ethos, they don’t so much influence the genre as stick out like a sore thumb, drawing a cult following of similar aged hipsters. Until their split at the end of last year Dananananaykroyd were that band. Before them, a more hormonal and highly strung Los Campesinos! wore the crown, and with their debut album, Islet have announced themselves as the new pretenders to the throne.
Illuminated People follows two startling EPs, Celebrate This Place and Wimmy. The first was a noisy, fuzzy, lo-fi call to action. The latter was more experimental in sound but saw the band try their luck with a few choruses. But it’s their live shows that have earned the Welsh quartet their reputation. Packed with brutal, raw energy, they rarely keep to the stage, preferring to pogo through the crowd, leaping between instruments, swapping drum kits for amps or the ceiling and injecting their trademark ferocious yelps and growls into every song. A band of outsiders shunning the sounds their peers are making, it’s an unpredictable, electrifying experience and one that, like Dananananaykroyd, they’ve not quite managed to translate onto record.
Its first track, Libra Man, is a nine minute showcase, which pretty much explains what they’re all about. A juddering intro that fizzes into thundering drums, which in turn give way to relaxed funk beats and clattering percussion, Illuminated People starts as it means to go one – utterly chaotic. Alongside all this are woozy, sneering lyrics: “What is your greatest fear? Ours is the sight of you…You’ve got the lion’s share”; it’s like they’ve made a collage of every sound they’ve ever recorded.
The rest of the album is equally mad, from the post punk Filia with its aggressive, Future Of The Left-style thrashing drums and ghostly wailing, to Funicular, which starts off as a swooning, tropical song with falsetto melodies before giving way to a zombie-like drone.
There are some moments of calm. We Bow is a highlight, made all the more special by its relative sparseness. An acoustic guitar with scratchy and distorted but gentle vocals, it looks to some of the more reflective moments on Yuck‘s debut for inspiration. It’s a grunge lullaby with an unexpected delicacy.
Shores is a more conventional electro-pop track, with bouncing, spacey beats that flutter along with a cartoonish vocal dual, while What We Done Wrong relies less on the build up of noise and more on a intricate vocal arrangement for the bonkers-factor.
A Bear On His Own has a wacky, arcade game sound that recalls both Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Gang Gang Dance, while Entwined Pines slaps their ever present industrial thrashings over spacey, Flaming Lips loops.
It’s not a short album, with 10 tracks clocking in at around 45 minutes, and some of those tracks could do with being a minute or two shorter. But for as many songs that feel like they’re being stretched out for the sake of it, there are moments of brilliance, kept hidden until the very end of songs, like the fizzing white noise at the end of This Fortune and the prog rock jam that closes Libra Man.
Fun as it is, Illuminated People never quite reaches the brutal, anarchic highs of Islet’s live shows, and as a result it feels restrained. But one thing’s for sure – no one could call it dull.