It’s hard to get a read on Istanbul-based trio Islandman, and Godless Ceremony, their third full-length album, only makes things more complicated, for better or for worse. Remixes of Tamikrest sit alongside entrancing originals, placed more uneasily alongside a few cuts of what feels like old-school worldbeat of the most troublesome sort. To put it plainly, when Islandman’s music is good, it’s very, very good. When it’s not, it’s puzzling.
Godless Ceremony, fortunately, has more of the former moments than the latter. It opens with “Kara Toprak”, a track that shows them at their best. Subtle melodic beats tiptoe into a buoyant cover of poet Âşık Veysel’s iconic ballad. The clarinet spirals on “Istanbul Lockdown” crystallize a poignancy that is very much of the moment.
Interwoven with those are the band’s imaginary travels. “Aku Membawa” features lead producer Tolga Böyük chanting in Bahasa Indonesia over layers of electronic and acoustic percussion from labelmates DJ Divo, OliO, and Kenneth Bager. His voice is fully powered with menacing reverb in what feels uncomfortably like old-school worldbeat, trading on the thrill of dancefloor-ready exoticism without much audible input from the people whose spaces and sounds are being evoked. Similar in that regard is the more meditative “Drums of Colca”, which features Troels Hammer, Ole Theill, and an Asian instrumental mélange of tabla, Mongolian mouth harp, and Tibetan flutes.
That isn’t to say that all of Islandman’s more global collaborations are fully extractivist. A remix of Tamikrest‘s “Tarhamanine Assinegh” turns the stunning desert blues track into a techno-infused banger, keeping the brilliant guitar and vocal work wholly recognizable even as Islandman’s glittering beats rework the song. Later, “Amarnos Ahora” features Ecuadorian singer Huaira, giving Islandman the chance to trace instrumental contours around her that, while reminiscent of the folktronica of producers like Nicola Cruz or Quantic, have Islandman’s unmistakable playfulness.
Where Godless Ceremony really hits its stride is in its final four tracks. Here, Islandman become sublime, swirling together saz, synths, and an array of beats to make for a different kind of global music, one that brings together experience and imagination to create an ecstatic new, sonically-mapped understanding of the world. “Godless Ceremony” rises and spreads, bright and catchy. “Eros Dosco Bossa” resonates on murmuring wavelengths, round beats rolling through birdsong. “Dere Boyu Kavaklar” offers a new wave take on Anatolian rock, leading the album to its close with “Gaze into an Abyss”. It’s a piece not frightened by the titular emptiness so much as curious as string loops in open space bridge gaps between clarinet lines and low-key beats.
The good of Godless Ceremony outweighs its problems. At times inconsistent, sometimes venturing into thorny cultural territory, it nonetheless puts Islandman’s vibrant aesthetic on display in ways that serve the trio well. Their sound is exuberant, excited for the next musical adventure, and though a cartographic impulse can veer close to a conquering impulse, Godless Ceremony never sees Islandman jump that line. This group wants to learn more about the world through every sound they play, and it’s hard to argue with that kind of driven desire.