When multi-instrumentalist Nick Diamonds and drummer J'aime Tambeur played with Montreal's the Unicorns, they charmed listeners with lo-fi keyboards, rudimentary riffs, and frill-free hooks. Islands, their new group, proves the Unicorns' minimalist approach stemmed from manpower limitations, rather than narrow vision. Opening with a nine-minute opus that includes lyrical and musical Unicorns references, Return to the Sea, Islands' debut disc, incorporates violins, triangles, and lap steel into a mix of folk, hip-hop, country, psychedelic prog, and calypso.
The band never lets its compositional ambition compromise its catchiness or obscure its playful nature. Diamonds' arch wordplay remains intact -- "Rough Gem" touts his own surname rather than decrying the mining conditions in Sierra Leone -- but he's also capable of strikingly romantic couplets: "Millions of sunsets, but the one I'll remember/The one where you told me you'd love me forever." In concert, group members wear all-white outfits and get as gleeful as Polyphonic Spree, zealously clapping hands and perching on one another's shoulders. This stage-straining septet expands again when Busdriver (he rapped over Diamonds and Tambeur's live Unicorns instrumentals in the short-lived project Th' Corn Gangg), the opening act, replicates his Return to the Sea cameo.