The Isles: Perfumed Lands

These songs, though well executed and mostly rising above the influences that inform them, pass by without delivering much impact

The Isles

Perfumed Lands

Label: Melodic
US Release Date: 2006-09-12
UK Release Date: 2006-07-31

Wait, what? The Isles are from New York? No. They sound totally English. Oh, my God, I can't believe it! Another New York band aping Britpop influences. The Smiths, eh? Yeah, occasionally. Echo and the Bunnymen? Yeah, them too. Sure, there's some contemporarily updated quality to the whole enterprise with their shifting rhythms and song-as-unit conception, but -- ok, I'll come out with it -- I'm not sold on this whole Isles thing. In fact, pleasant as it is, isn't this music a bit... well, boring?

And don't confuse the Isles with Islands, Nick Diamonds's post-Unicorns effort. The two bands couldn't be more different -- where the latter incorporates a plethora of instruments to create quirky, likeable, and almost constantly changing indie rock, the Isles' understated acoustic-fueled compositions somehow seem to blend together. Singer Andrew Geller sticks to a small vocal range, a light tenor that often resets to the original note or phrase just when it seems as if the melody is about to wander into more adventurous territory.

It's really the opening track, "Major Arcana", that most screams Smiths, though Geller's voice is lighter and higher in tone than Morrissey's, so the song as a whole seems less of a revelation. Don't get me wrong; it's really pretty, and uses a circular loop of a theme to create complex, sophisticated indie pop. It's one of the brightest lights on the album -- it's just that it's also one of the most derivative. The band's at its most successful when it forgets the intricate guitar arrangements and lets the songs' natural prettiness shine. "Terraforming" has this kind of doomed ska feeling, as Geller sings "On to tomorrow, I hope it never comes"; the song stomps simpler and relaxes into a fun on-beat/off-beat rhythm.

The Isles seem eager to name-check the Strokes in the press, but there's not much similarity there. I think what they're getting at is this quality the Strokes have of capturing gleaming jewels of melodies buried within a song's texture. The thing that made Is This It so successful, though, was that everything surrounding those jewels was catchy, too -- so you had music that kept rewarding the first, as well as the fifth, time. And it is true that the Isles have a few of these pretty ideas on Perfumed Lands -- from the repetition of "you're fun to hate" in "Tropical Lamby", with its almost Animal Collective swirling rhythms, to "Flying Under Cheap Kites"'s hidden gem "I'd be dead, but there's nothing worth dying for".

But apart from these blips on the radar, the strum/jangle/jangle texture is so similar that the songs quickly fade into background. It's almost as if, amid all the crafting of guitar polyphony, the band forgot to differentiate each song. Geller has commented that the band "wanted to write songs that didn't rely on volume or delivery to have an impact." Unfortunately, sacrificing melody along with volume and delivery has created the opposite effect -- these songs, though well executed and mostly rising above the influences that inform them, pass by without delivering the impact as well.





By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.


Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.


L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.


Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.


Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.


Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.


West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.