Islet - Illuminated People
If we’re to believe all the stories, then the devil met Robert Johnson and friends at a crossroads and with it the roots of rock and roll were born. From there it was a hop, skip and a jump via Elvis’ hips, The Beatles and the Stones and Aretha Franklin until we reached the 1970s when apparently something terrible happened: its name was progressive rock and its sin was self-indulgence. But the advent of punk saved us all! The musical clock was reset and we could travel safely to the modern age in the knowledge that all bad music has been banished. These may just be myths and legends, but despite the presence of Steps and Simon Cowell, one thing has remained concreted into public consciousness: progressive rock must never return.
It’s against this backdrop that we greet the latest release from Cardiff fourpiece, Islet. Illuminated People has been described as a work of experimental rock but let’s not play with semantics: Islet are a prog rock band. The question is, are we to adhere to the myths and burn them at the stake or should we listen with fresh ears and leave history behind?
To some, maybe even many, the description that an album is like early Yes would ring alarm bells. But to do so would be to be resorting to cliches. Albums like Fragile and Close to the Edge were simply great, inventive rock albums. It was only possibly later in their career, when Yes started to put out albums with more sides than tracks, when every band member had to have a live solo spot, that allegations of indulgence took hold.
Islet, with their roving, interchanging of instruments and a pursuit of experimentation in their music bring something fresh to the contemporary music scene. If nothing else they bring a sense of fun to proceedings. Illuminated People starts with all guns blazing and a series of uptempo tracks. Large in scale and thick with electric piano, it is this instrument especially that links this album with the early 70s. Male vocals take the fore but these are then mixed with a female voice. Later the album settles down into more traditional fare (bar a surprise funk outing just to keep us on our toes). These later tracks suggest that although more pedestrian in nature, once they’ve got all this messing around out of their system, there’s a real band of substance in there.
We should champion Islet for wanting to experiment - just as long as the fun doesn’t get in the way of the music. Unless the band start wearing wizard’s hats or demanding zither solos we should follow their progress, ignore the myths and simply listen to their music.