Gareth Kent reviews hallucinatory new album, Eyelet, by the psychedelic pop trio, Islet.
Islet’s most recent album, Eyelet, is the product of sweeping life changes for each of the trio: Emma and Mark Daman Thomas having their second child, and fellow band member, Alex Williams, recently losing his mother. The resulting album is an expansive and hypnotic soundscape that is infused with lavish electronics coursing through each of its tracks. While each of the eleven songs featured on the album may initially appear to lack a sense of cohesive unity, this is deceptive as Eyelet’s animated unruliness is ultimately evocative of life and our respective journeys through it. From the inception of the caterpillar to the rising of the Moon and repeated over again, with life being but a gyratory circus. It is unruly and turbulent, yet cyclical, its waters constantly in motion – an auditory ouroboros. It is a richly textured and multi-faceted approach that simultaneously celebrates life’s pandemonium while yearning for something better on behalf of future generations. In this way, there is a dedicated social commitment and rebellious undercurrent coursing through the veins of each of Eyelet’s tracks, grappling with themes such as cultural identity, diversity, motherhood, social and ecological revitalisation.
Eyelet starts relatively relaxed with Caterpillar described by Emma as “a song for my [then] unborn child”. It is a slow soundscape with spiralling keys reflective of a caterpillar gently emerging from its chrysalis – a movement itself mirroring a child’s first tentative steps – overlaid with Emma’s harmonious voice exuding a yearning and warm sensitivity. The track’s textures are soft, inviting, and ultimately, as whole-hearted as a mother’s embrace.
That yearning sentiment takes a new guise on the album’s following tracks. Moon is a quiet soundscape with shades of Brian Eno and The Flaming Lips that is delicate and as reverent as a symphonic church, yet downtrodden and chthonic all at once. Good Grief, however, adopts more cascading synths mixed with a verdant forest of electronic sound and ephemeral vocal melodies. Not only are the shifting soundscapes particularly pleasant here, but the vocals are themselves a bewitching affair. The vocals are intimately sweet and tempestuously haunting all at once, with “feel my devotion” susurrating into the listener’s ear followed by some smoothly applied banshee-like high howls during the track’s climactic segment. It’s an incredibly atmospheric addition to the album, one that is easy to imagine otherworldly figures chanting from a mountaintop.
Radel 10 is one of the album’s highlights and employs a delicious tabla drum machine as its instrumental centrepiece (as the track’s title suggests). The drums and percussion in Eyelet are invitingly addictive and roll in constant succession, making it all too easy to get enamoured and wrapped up by its currents. The treasure features possibly the most stripped back instrumentation on the album, with a nice juxtaposition between its shimmering keys and percussion to the repetitive baseline that glides throughout the track. Geese, however, is an exceptional example of psychedelic pop packaged in a neat dance aesthetic echoing a sound suggestive of Four Tet’s naturalist electronic style.
While Eyelet does demonstrate a keen pop sensibility on tracks such as Geese and Good Grief, Islet wears their psychedelic tendencies on their sleeves. You could easily be fooled into thinking that Cloud was taken directly from an Animal Collective album through its textured layers of synths and the hypnotic repetition of its vocals. Meanwhile, Florist demonstrates Islet’s psych-chops through a bubbling effect alongside the glossy synths that make up the core sound of the album, while No Host employs an attractive bass alongside a quirky, and oddly satisfying, rolling synth. Sgwylfa Rock plays most keenly with vocal effects, with its vocals seemingly sprouting forth from the basin of a waterfall. One minor complaint towards this track, and perhaps the album, in general, is that Islet’s typically stellar signwriting is lost betwixt the fabric of its lustrous branches of synths, sometimes resulting in its vocal melodies taking a backseat. Perhaps this is by design as Eyelet is ordered disarray in the best possible way.
Eyelet is the culmination of over ten years of experience, and this shows as the album’s production value is unremittingly stellar as are the tracks themselves. Indeed, the high-quality production showcases Islet’s musical progression, in style, substance, and accessibility. While psychedelic pop often struggles to make itself accessible for a general audience, Eyelet is equal parts accessible and experimental. Islet is retentive to a general audience’s wants, and it delivers upon this while expanding upon their signature sound, punctuating it with a diverse assortment of entrancing soundscapes and vocal melodies that not only retain but amplify the band’s charming stylistic quirks.
Eyelet by Islet is Available Now from Fire Records.
Gareth Kent is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.