It’s pretty early in the New Year still, but we’re already having the annual debate about guitar music needing an adrenaline shot in the heart. The funny thing is, the people who make such pointless statements and draw such arbitrary genre-lines in the sand are often very people who don’t want to go looking for it beyond their own front door. Not to mention the fact that the guy who started the ruckus this time is the same guy who signed one of the most dead-behind-the-eyes exponents of vacuous ‘guitar music’ – White Lies. The point is, at any point in time there are good bands and there are shitty bands and that’s the end of it, really. Sometimes people just gotta dive below the surface because, well, shit floats.
Lurking well below this surface are Islet. Formed a few years back in Cardiff, the band comprise members of various oddball outfits centred on Cardiff’s excellent Shape Records roster, including Fredrick Stanley Star, the Victorian English Gentlemens Club and Attack + Defend. They’ve grown a sort of cultish status off the back of 2 excellent EPs and a cathartic brainmelt live show, and Illuminated People continues to fizz with the band’s wide-eyed euphoria at being alive.
This is the band’s first record recorded with the help of an outside producer, and it’s had a great effect – their experimentation is more refined and galvanized, and they approach each song with a confidence which, on record at least, hadn’t quite felt fully-formed.
Opener ‘Libra Man’ is a late-game-Jenga-tower of a tune – ideas are piled on top of each other at all sorts of angles, and always threaten to bring the whole thing crashing down…but somehow, somehow it all stays strong. Not only does it hold together but it grooves..in a lop-sided, elastic way that’s reminiscent of Tortoise or Gang Gang Dance. They have a cool way with vocals too, using them as an instrument as much as a centrepiece.
The rest of the album shatters into a million different directions at once. ‘This Fortune’ centres around a grinding organ and Emma Daman’s voice, which alternates between Kate Bush swoops and gothic screeches. ‘A Warrior Who Longs to Grow Herbs’ is an organic sprawl of honeyslide texture that leads beautifully into ‘We Bow’, a plaintive acoustic guitar ballad which would be surprising if it wasn’t on a record so littered with the unexpected. ‘Filia’ is the real centrepiece of the record, as a viscous dubby groove mutates into a frantic and jagged climax.
There are moments where the album wanders, but even these are still interesting, and the whole thing is delivered with such verve that you can’t help but be swept up by it all. Illuminated People is a colourful and warm record that delights in the mere act of giving.