Close observers of the shoegaze scene will have picked up the last two singles from Puerto Rico’s Un.Real. “Blue Garden” and “Lovely One” heralded a band arriving fully formed and ready to conquer the world.
The band have had an ever-evolving list of members around main man Gardy Perez-Ruiz. With influences ranging from The Cure to My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive they have forged their own unique brand of dream pop. They now present us with Islands, their debut LP.
The album opens on “Kids are Astronauts”, a swaggering, dreamy opus. This is what you call coming out swinging. This song grabs your attention from the outset with the contrast between the heavy and dreamy guitars, the male and female vocals. There’s some nice dynamic stop/starts as well. This bodes well for the rest of the album.
We segue through a looped guitar riff into the strident intro to “Drones”. I love the vocal melody here. It slip-slides over the fuzz-driven guitars like raspberry sauce over an ice cream cone. No sooner has the song begun than it is bidding us farewell on a wave of feedback.
Following on is “Lovely One”. This song has fascinated me since I first heard it. It begins with the two contrasting guitar lines that define the song. One shrieking and just holding itself together from the feedback, the other chiming through a warm comforting blanket of lush reverb. Couched in between comes the beautiful vocals of Bernice Cruz lifting the song to another level. Her voice centres the whole track whilst supporting and building on the foundational guitar lines.
The feeling of space is palpable when, by rights, we should be crushed beneath the waves of sonic distortion. And it’s just when we are lifted the highest that the song segues into “Islands”, which is just the most beautiful acoustic and synth-led instrumental. It is so different to the previous track that each time you hear it you are still taken unawares.
The first single for the album is up next. “Blue Garden” is a beautifully textured tone masterclass. Robin Guthrie himself would kill for this song, I should think. As we move into the ascending chord swell of the chorus it gives you goosebumps every time. The guitars compliment the vocal melody so well. This is a very accomplished piece of music.
Like the title says, “Nylon Pop” is a jangly indie pop song couched in the reverbed and tremolo-soaked tones of Perez-Ruiz’ guitar. It’s like a Primitives song performed by My Bloody Valentine.
“Voltaire” enters all brooding and dark. Like a seventies sci-fi theme curling, looping and evolving. Getting steadily more mechanised and intense until it simply evaporates into the ether.
As if to immediately counter the darkness, in comes “You’re Smarter”, full of the rampant joy the early Stone Roses singles had. I love how the band work that early nineties sound and morph it into something unique. Without a doubt my album highlight.
“Sun Like Star” sets us up for the end of the album with a peaceful and gentle intro, leading us into the dreamiest of choruses. There is a really cool drop in the middle of the song where you think it’s all over, only for the guitars to slowly start to build again. I can imagine this will be a huge live favourite when the band are able to get out and gig this album.
The album closes on the sprawling soundscape that is “Space Shore”. Sounding very like some lost Pink Floyd track, the song floats along as though weightless, airborne. I can imagine this is what being in space feels like. As we settle in and get comfortable, the band have a surprise in store for us as a fraught saxophone comes in on the outro. Building to cacophonous crescendo, the song then drifts off into farthest reaches of the cosmos.
The promise of those early singles has well and truly been met and exceeded on Islands. There is a lot to enjoy immediately, as well as repeated listens rewarding you with something new each time.