Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley and (...)
It's sweet bonny luck possessed by the man who has the means to travel with his own version of an orchestra, his own cast and troupe that enables him all of the various nuances, right in the palms of his hands, to pull off the slight and boisterous claims of a dream or a nightmare, or a hodge-podge, quagmire of both as they're at each other's throats. He can trounce around with these capabilities just as the Knights of the Round Table in Monty Python's "Holy Grail" did with servants and minstrels glorifying the cowardly moves of Sir Robin, the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir Lancelot and the real sounding galloping of horses hooves using the economical choice of split coconuts to produce the claps. Nick Diamonds is such a man to have these assets, to have the ability to bring forth all of his turbulent and celestial thoughts - nuggets of heaven and hell - into full view.
Islands, the project that he started following the short burn and then quick demise of The Unicorns - a band from Montreal that bathed in oddities and big bathtubs of hair, is now an operation that allows the moppy-haired songwriter the expansive wingspan of a spruce goose or an albatross. Love the Unicorns as much as you'd like for their quirkiness and likable dysfunction, but Islands - with its new album Arm's Way - is a supreme being and a truer reflection of the lyrical and musical chops of Diamonds than anything he's ever done. This includes a good debut Return to the Sea.
On the latest album, Diamonds has graduated into something much more engrossing than he's ever been. Where some slyness can feel hollow and too fantastical, the adventurous tongue, pen and musical strokes that Diamonds lavishes onto every song on the new record all feels appropriate and special. It's a matured shape of the oddities of old, tucking in half of their shirts rather than just letting it hang all the way out. It still maintains its oddness and effervescence, glorifying and bringing to life the idea of losing all control over the appendages that you normally work with in such harmony. So much of the lyrical content of the new record brings up an aberration that's taken to the streets to reach out and touch people, bring them back to its lair. It's come calling, weeding out the chosen few, maybe the lucky ones, maybe not. It's a phantom come to life, but it seems to be Diamonds' way of attempting to get at the heart of religious or semi-religious matters like - God's will, He must have wanted it that way, God has a plan - while associating them more with the way things work on a less than faith-based level, where people aren't seeing the face of the savior in Polaroid photographs of the sun or in Wavy Lays potato chips. Here's a thought and maybe Joan Osborne was right, that this being is more like us than we think and that's why bad things happen. Horrific car wrecks are caused because someone is disorganized or forgets to keep their appointments. He too writes things on little slips of paper and then forgets where he puts them. It happens.
There's a lot of life and death parable work going on over the course of Arm's Way and these could just be the makings of a highly imaginative man or they could be subconscious concerns working themselves out of the bloodstream and temples and getting into the blinking bright out of doors, feeling the bleached reality. "Pieces of You" gives the immediate feeling of white ghosts floating above you on wire strings, scowling as they dip and dive, whooing and flapping for all the grand effects. There's an element of the cat getting caught with canary feathers sticking out of its mouth and singing the song to the deceased bird as if it were still living. There's a lot of that explaining the bad things, detailing them, illuminating them on Arm's Way. Diamonds is explicit in what he sees or thinks he sees in these nightmares or possibilities of calamity that still seem tolerable and upbeat, as they float out in a colorful array of dreamy blood and guts.
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