“Thank you to Clwb, for still being here! For letting us play this weird shit on a Saturday night in the middle of town!” Mark Thomas of Islet, paying tribute to tonight’s host venue. The ‘weird shit’ he’s talking about is the sprawling, progressive music of Islet. A four headed multi-instrumental beast that tonight’s performance forges even more diverse, bracing terrains. Back after two years away and celebrating the release of their new EP “Liquid Half Moon”, Cardiff’s music fraternity has turned out in good number to welcome its returning noise expanders this weekend.
Invading the stage through the crowd looking like extras from an episode of Mork and Mindy bedecked in silver smocks, and wielding wind chimes, for the next two hours Islet are an idiosyncratic joy to behold, simultaneously challenging and propulsive, dizzying and affecting, brutal and boldly brilliant. Anchored by brothers Mark (tonight on keys and sparring vocals) and John Thomas (drums/bass), Alex Williams (bass/guitar) joined by Emma Daman (on vocals and drums tonight), they are a revolving group of players and vocals with no fixed role. The sheer gleeful way they attack each song allows space and imaginations free reign, from the way they break free from any role: breaking down any barrier between themselves and the crowd to constantly switching instruments and chanting vocal sparring duty. At one moment Emma becomes a shamanic presence on a song like ‘This Fortune’ her vocal whipping up a whirlwind of hollered cacophonies, clattering cymbals, high-level bass swirling around her spiralling harmonic tones. While new single ‘Final Drive’ hits the throttle displaying a subtlety: as guitars scratch and twitch baselines buzz underscored by muted percussion “All right let’s not make this a problem/Why can’t we leave things the same?” intone Emma and Mark their intertwined vocals plaintive, hypnotic and affecting.
Their palette is even broader and more visionary than the last time I saw them three years ago from the drum-offs, shifting vocals and switching progressions of early song ‘We Shall Follow’, the rushing squalls, trembling cymbals and communal vocal crescendos of ‘Triangulation Station’ from their 2013 album ‘Released by the Movement’. To more recent cuts like ‘Cathays Terrors’ ushered in by a cheer for only Cardiff resident of the band left, eccentric dress wearing charmer Alex Williams, that displays an unexpected funkiness and snaking keyboard lines that gets bodies moving and hips swaying. To the psych trip of ‘A Bear on his Own’ that scampers down rabbit holes on a sleigh of Hammond organs, thundering rhythms and wailing harmonies, from their debut long player ‘Illuminated people’. These songs vividly depict why Islet are possessors of a boundless excitement and magical transportation, as Islet push their boundaries of sound yet further and invade our minds teleporting us to another place.
You could throw around comparisons like the rhythmic propensity of CAN, the vocal playfulness of Animal Collective or the percussive experimentations of early Battles. You could reference psychedelia, no wave, krautrock or no wave but Islet’s sound is all of these things yet somehow none of them, it’s an exploration of four creative brains: indefinable, yet individual. a whirlwind of sound that forces your body to move, your mouth to shout along with each put-down, hypnotising mantra and abandoning holler into the ether, your heart to swell with as my friend puts it the ‘nourishment’ of their performance.
At the end of a crescendo of “Carlos” Mark moves to the side of the stage jumping up and down in a blur of silver hollering at the top of his lungs, a pack of us are in his full rapture arms legs in movement lungs fresh with melody, bodies bruised having experienced the gig of the year.
Photos by Rebecca Lesieutre