REVIEW: Island Boy - The Sea Between

Kelly Kirwan

No man is an island.

John Donne said it first, but you’ve probably heard its sentiment repeated in a Hemingway novel, or offered as a wise idiom in those moments when solitude seemed to be your best option. A little selective hermitage to get you through a personal blue (or blasé) period. So, when I first came across Island Boy, I thought of the title as a kind of Donne-rebellion—a fist-in-the-air solidarity with solitude. And, as I dug more into the artist, Richard Hunter-Rivera, I certainly picked up on an aesthetic that hovered somewhere between loneliness and a welcome independence. In previous interviews, Hunter-Rivera admitted that home sometimes appears as a question mark in his mind rather than a warm, sepia-toned memory.

Throughout his adult life he has drifted between coasts, landing in New Orleans and San Diego, while also weaving in and out of ensemble acts before realizing solo work, and shedding the pillars that hold up rock n’ roll, was more his speed. The appeal of electronic music was its intimacy, at least in creation. Island Boy drafts pensive, trance-like beats that are thick with drums and synth. On his latest album, The Sea Between, we realize that perhaps this ghost of loneliness that occasionally haunts Hunter-Rivera is only that—a cloud that’s never quite absorbed in full. Whatever inclinations Island Boy thrives in, his beats reflect his Puerto Rican roots and later-in-life travels, with warm, Latin-inspired percussion, ripples of dembow (tied to reggaeton), and of course, house music. 

So, Island Boy is in fact a piece of the continent, a mesh of past influences paired with an independent streak (and an e-mail that reads "islandboyandgirl" as a nod to his fiancé). Donne was right, the sly bastard. 

The Sea Between was written over the course 2015. It consists of eleven tracks that, at their longest, just pass the four-minute mark. Songs like "Boulevard" scratch the surface of a minute, a misty, minimal synth line that floats onward without lyrics. It has the tranquil quality of watching still water from the shore—there’s still a feeling of expanse even in this short segue. Then there’s "La Palabra," whose main beat is addictively funky, joined by a clapping cymbal sound and Hunter-Rivera’s signature, laid-back croon. The lyrics, unsurprisingly, are in Spanish (la palabra meaning “the word” in English), and as is Hunter-Rivera’s style, it has inviting Caribbean notes paired with an almost futuristic synth-play.

Then there’s the album’s titular track, which pulses on top of layered, syncopated percussion. The beat has those waves of island-style, but also a space-inspired synth working its way into the fold. It’s a track that works because it doesn’t have a glossy finish; it feels immediate, as Hunter-Rivera’s gentle intonation observes, “I can’t wait to jump in it.” As we lose ourselves in the undulations of his synthesizers and airy vocals, the complicit agreement is made: we can’t wait to wade in ourselves.