Nick Diamonds' Islands have maintained a healthy balance of hooks and smarts over four albums. 2006's Return to the Sea, secretly the finest album of that year, was a triumphant tale rampant with real-life experience and creative worlds of human interaction. The list of contributors to that record is astounding to this day.

Ten years on, many of the orchestral elements of Islands' past are now gone. After all, it's probably tough to nail down Regine Chassagne and Sarah Neufeld these days. Instead, the band's fifth and sixth studio albums are stripped to the base parts of songwriting (in Diamonds lovely falsetto) and pop form. This works well on Should I Remain Here at Sea, where the songs are driven by verse/chorus structures and intimate storytelling. On 'Christmas Tree', Diamonds plays a melon collie electric guitar and tells a tale of disassociation: "I say I'm shopping for a coffin, please/I said, everyone get off of me" he wails before letting out a Wilhelm scream as the drums pop in. There's also breezy tracks like 'Innocent Man', where Diamonds takes a dig at the perils of starting a band, spilling tongue in cheek rhetoric that could easily be autobiographical. On standout 'Sun Conore', Diamonds vulnerably sings of love over a smooth synth drones and plodding guitar. The stripped down feeling of the record works to Islands favor on each of SIRHAS's ten tracks.

Things don't go over so well on sister album Taste. Diamonds and company hold on to flimsy synth arpeggios and pop contrivances like a child would an old toy. Like a less inspired Vampire Weekend, 'The Weekend' is a pitfall of boring structure and some of the least common denominator lyrics Diamonds has penned: "We all come along/We're just staying for the weekend/There's nothing wrong/We might as well be dreaming." Lead single 'Charm Offensive' showed more promise with its organs and Diamonds' insistence to "resist the narcotic embrace," but the rest of the album sounds like your least favorite friends rock band that just so happens to own electronic instruments. This movement toward the drum machine/synthesizer is likely just Diamonds' reaction to not having a full orchestra or a rapper at his disposal, but SIRHAS proves that he doesn't necessarily need more instruments to make his songs pack a punch; and Taste feels like a betrayal by a band leader that we know is capable of more.

Should I Remain Here at Sea: 8/10

Taste: 5/10