In October 2010 I saw Islet play in a tiny art venue in Dalston. It was totally rammed and the whole event carried that vague whiff of being an event, of being something special that would serve as a real bragging-rights gig. Then Islet fucked off and let us forget about them. But this hibernation wasn’t an artistic statement, it was an opportunity to cast of all the words and ideas pinned to Islet the first time around. Sure, the touching points of no wave, prog, krautrock and psychedelia remain, but Islet’s fearlessness has led to new sounds seeping into the maelstrom; What We Done Wrong begins with lush folky strings before pulling the rug out and going all in with garage rock stomp and an ending that (almost, almost) transcends into something resembling a post-hardcore track.
So really, nothing’s changed at all. With Islet the appeal always lay in their unexpected nature, the sense that listening to any of their recorded output was going to be an experience rather than a casual dalliance. So what do they do to change that? They play it straight. The schizo nature of earlier EPs Celebrate This Place and Wimmy just wouldn’t work when pulled out to full length and the Sturm und Drang would have worn off quickly. The problem is, Islet aren’t a singular band, in fact, they’re at their best when they sound like 5 bands playing over the top of each other and by outsourcing to a sound more accessible and approachable means the whole thing doesn’t (for the most part) feel like a band who could freak out and change styles at the drop of a hat.
But for all its failures, Illuminated People remains a ferociously sturdy and confident debut, because it isn’t really a debut at all, it’s the logical next step in Islet’s story. And that’s the album in a nutshell, a ball of frenetic contradictions and clashing ideas. This isn’t the first message to the world, this is them having a shot at mass communication and telling people to get ready, because no-one knows where they’ll go next, not even themselves.
By Ned Powley