Islands
Knitting Factory main stage
Dec 6 2005

Yes I did take this shitty photo, and some others I took are up at CMJ’s Relay anti-blog.

Short: Islands played their first show in New York City last night, on the second to last day of their first headlining tour. They had a total of seven members, who looked and kinda acted like a model UN club. They also had tropical rhythms! Violins! Bass clarinet! I think Nick, Jaime, and Co. totally satisfied the Unicorns-hungry crowd.

Long:
Though I am somewhat biased because I have a bit of history with the Unicorns, I thought they met or exceeded the expectations put on them by ex-Unicorns fans. At least there was only one Unicorns request — for “Jellybones”? natch.

Not that Nick Diamonds (who co-wrote and co-sang for the Unicorns) would have wanted to do a ‘Corns request, but the song would have been impossible anyway. Nick’s bandleader for the Islands, without Alden there to sing the second lead vocal “Jellybones”? would have just sounded odd. In fact, the best part of the Unicorns were its two parts. Nick and Alden traded verses, sparred through songs, outdid each other with layers of catchy hooks that never needed to be repeated throughout each track. By having two vocalists playing two characters, we didn’t have to accept one, both, or either of them as the real deal, as when they sang, “I write the songs / I write the songs / You’re doing it wrong / You ARE doing it wrong!â€?

Nick’ the only voice (or the most prominent one) amid a new expanded group of seven members. But he’s smart enough to still not force us to accept his narrative. And you can tell he’s matured over the last couple of years. For all of Islands’ cutesy-ness (awkward, dancing Asian viola player, all the members dressed white, synchronized handclaps), Nick’s songs are less about private little in-fights and have expanded to things like the African diamond mines and anorexia, though even those topics are still wrapped up intimate little love songs. He said, “this next song’s about recycling? before about three tracks, and though he was dead dry and made people laugh, I know there are actually songs about the environment on Return To The Sea, though the audience didn’t know yet.

In fact, while the expanded cast can’t completely make up for Alden’s voice and characters in the songs, the viola, violin, bass clarinet respond to each other and counter Nick’s lyrics, take the place of Alden’s responses. One great example is the song “Ruff Gem,” which the Unicorns played live but makes its official debut on the Islands record. Nick (and Jaime, drummer for the Unicorns and Islands) replace the sugary immediate gratification of the song’s bouncy “Didn’t Start The Fire”? keyboard line with strings, breaking up its parts between instruments. It’s glossy but gains depth, despite said violist jumping and dancing like a nerd, and the pre-planned handclaps, it’s a better song after the Islands treatment.

What Islands can’t compete with is the amount of “ohhhs” and “how cutes!” that came from the audience. Girls loved the Unicorns, and while Nick still had a bit of that worn look that came with later Unicorns shows, the rest of the band had the enthusiasm that made the Unicorns’ first shows so much fun. I could ignore the infantilizing of the Asian band members (motherfuckers did this to Deerhoof too), the impatient looks on audience members’ faces when the band played slower instrumentals, even could ignore the bass clarinetist making out with who was clearly the most determined of the girls waiting after the show, but it does lead to some of the shit that happened to the Unicorns (over touring, (gulp) over interviewing, girls stealing your matching outfits just because), and if Nick already looks worn on their first tour, a year from now he could be
worse off. As I said, I’m biased, so I just hope for the best for Nick, Alden, and Jaime.

That said, Mark, who was the band’s caretaker on the road and who did sound last night and recorded Islands’ record said that he’ll be recording Alden’s first post-Unicorns album too. I’ve heard some of his solo stuff as well (I’ll post an mp3 above) and I think it’s wonderful.