Over the last two years, The Isles have been favourites of New York indie haunts including Pianos, Union Pool and Lit Lounge. They’ve played CBGBs, scored movies (The Education Of Shelby Knox) and taken their place on a number of hipper-than-thou NYC compilations.
Their website is peppered with pretty graphics of Victorian lasses climbing ladders and what looks like some old Frank Quietly art from The Broons. Their four track EP Back to Terrific, released last August, garnered praise from all angles and they’re currently on tour around the UK. Their debut album, Perfumed Lands, could be one of the loveliest things you’ve ever heard in your life.
If, that is, you’ve never heard of a long-defunct Manchester band called The Smiths because, if you have, within about 30 seconds you won’t be able to help but notice that The Isles sound exactly like them. Exactly. Like. Them. And while – granted – there’s a lot worse bands they could have chosen to sound like, for Benjamin Haberland, Chris Bordeaux, Andrew Geller and Tim McCoy to be so note-for-note, scale-for-broken-scale a recreation of Morrissey and Marr circa 1982 is actually a bit naughty, really, isn’t it lads? Just a little bit unnecessary.
Even Gene injected more of their own personality into their work than this and for that alone The Isles probably don’t deserve to be absolved, no matter how much the loveliness of their music will not only make you want to forgive them but also hug them close to your fading and threadbare The Queen Is Dead t-shirt and never, ever let them go. Even their lyrical tricks, such as Flying Under Cheap Kites’ “I feel dead, but there’s nothing worth dying for” sound as if they’ve come straight out of a lost Smiths songbook. Not to mention “the weary sound of the smiling types” and the creeping doom of “daydreams made of sand” you’ll find on Hide Your Work, probably the album’s best song.
To give them some due, they’re maybe a little cheerier – more like what The Smiths could have been if Salford had California’s weather and Moz had discovered love and happiness 25 years ago. But just because he didn’t, that doesn’t automatically mean it should be left to this New York quartet to create a sunnier alternate world were he did.
But, then again – whatever the muso morality of what they’re doing might be, they’re doing it very well, superimposing angular guitars over faltering vocals across 10 beautifully crafted little songs with names like Summer Loans and Eve Of The Battle that whisper to you of faint disappointment that’s long since been considered, shrugged at and accepted as one of those things that life’s all about.
So if you do decide to hate them rather than sing their praises from the rafters, get over yourself and be glad that at least not all the new bands out there are nicking Joy Division‘s back catalogue. For all the good it would do the charts, it would only get tedious in the long run. Love them and hate them in equal measure – they deserve both.