It's a little bit hard to believe Islet is Peptalk's debut album, given the high quality of the material on the forty-minute outing. A quick scan of the personnel involved, however, begins to explain why the group's sound arrives so fully formed. Singer Angelica Negron (Balún), electronicist Michael Carter (Tyondai Braxton), and percussionist Shayna Dunkelman (Xiu Xiu) bring to the project distinctive individual backgrounds as well as a shared love for exotica artists such as Esquivel, Robert Drasnin, and Martin Denny known for conjuring tropical soundscapes using bird calls, synthesizers, percussion, and orchestral instruments. But Islet is no one-dimensional pastiche: Peptalk draws from other exotic zones, too, among them J-Pop, dub, electronic music, sci-fi, ambient, and cyberpunk.
Aptly titled, “Panorama” captivates the listener immediately with its luscious sonic design and epic sweep. All manner of sounds—including vibraphone, trumpet, hand drums, wordless vocals, French horn, strings, and drums—surface during this transporting dreamscape of somewhat Asian melodic character. Elsewhere, tremolo guitars, mallets, and synthesizers add to Peptalk's rich template. Negron becomes a natural focal point in “Driftwood” when her soft enunciation of the song's English lyrics is shadowed by shimmering electronic treatments and mallet patterns, and with a dub bass pulse and clockwork rhythms prodding it along, “Nilbog” calls to mind early Múm when Negron's airy rendering of its English lyrics (“I feel the sunshine / Bleed the daytime”) are factored in.
So vivid as to be hyperreal, Peptalk's multi-faceted, pan-global music finds its suitable visual analogue in the photo that graces the album cover of a diorama inside of an old fruit crate (one Carter actually found on the street). Listening to the album, one quickly gets the impression that the three were painstaking in the way they assembled the pieces and in determining precisely which elements would appear within them. Each song is a sound collage packed with detail yet not so much that the material collapses under the weight of the final construction. When Negron sings “I am standing / Unfamiliar place around is new to me” during “Driftwood,” it doesn't take much to hear the lyrics as referring to Islet as a whole rather than one song only. While the album isn't sui generis (what musical creation is?), it definitely presents a novel soundworld that's pleasingly fresh and unfamiliar.