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Desert Island Disc Challenge: Deserted with Islands

12 years after its initial release, ‘Return to the Sea’ sounds as fresh as sipping from a coconut.

The tropic sun’s rays feel heavy, baking my skin to a leathery tanned hide. Grainy sand sticks to my back as I lie on this desert island. The sun makes the world a glowing red behind my closed eyelids, which I clench tightly shut as I will myself back to the warm cocoon of sleep.

But sleep won’t return. It’s day 47 of being stranded on this deserted island.

My voice is hoarse from lack of use. I’m alone, but I have one thing with me to save my sanity: a self-playing turntable that only plays the tenth-anniversary reissue of Return to the Sea by the indie-rock band: Islands.

The song “Tsuxiit” captures the terror and turmoil I felt when I first found myself deserted on this island. As I examined the wreckage of my boat, the twinkling keys interwoven with the frantic tremolo of strings and the soft yet steadily increasing timpani mirrored my rising panic.

The album’s cover is a painting by Caspar David Friedrich titled The Wreck of the Hope, fitting the scene perfectly as I stared at the wreckage that was once my boat. Once I accepted the fact that my vessel was irreparable, the song “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Whalebone,” channeled my frustration and rage into a cacophonous rush as I stood in the sand and planned my next move.

After that first day stranded, however, I’m content with my situation.

“Jogging Gorgeous Summer” — with its delicate flute solos, acoustic guitar and balmy steel drums that evoke a balmy tropical evening — helped me warm up my situation and settle into my new island home. “Rough Gem,” my favorite track on this record, made me realize I’m lucky to have a whole tropical island to myself. Sure, I had some work to put in, creating my new home, much like polishing a rough gem.

After a while, I know I will carve out a place on this island for myself.

The line, “I woke up thirsty,” from the song “Swans (Life After Death)” mirrored my internal thoughts, prompting me to quit sulking long enough to seek fresh water and pick fruit off the trees, putting an end to my sulking.

I pried abalone from the rocks while, “Volcanoes,” provided a gentle backdrop. The fiddles and sliding lap guitar were punctuated by chords from another guitar, and the song began to resemble the volcanic rocks dotting the island. 

The lyrics, “bones, bones, brittle little bones,” floated in the salty sea breeze as I snapped between my fingers the brittle remains of fish that washed ashore along to the song “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby.”

The languishing track, “Humans,” comforted me when I felt particularly lonely and despondent. 

At the end of each day, I watched the sun set behind the edge of the ocean to the jazzy “If.” The muted keys and swinging beat lulled me into a deep calm. The whispered lyrics and shimmering cymbals in “Ones” created the perfect atmosphere for stargazing as I settled underneath the brilliant night sky.

I’d finally drift off to sleep with the sound of rain and comforting folksy piano of “Bucky Little Wing.”

Each song on this debut record from the Montreal band perfectly fit one of my ever-shifting moods. Weaving a wide range of influences, from hip-hop to calypso, into a mosaic of textured rock, Return to the Sea contains the perfect balance of dynamic variety and cohesion.

The record is sophisticated and complex enough that even 12 years after its initial release on Equator Records, the album sounds as fresh as the coconut I’m sipping from on this deserted island.

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