Basic Instincts (Rita)
Richard Hunter-Rivera, the songwriter and performer behind Island Boy, spent more of his childhood traveling than your average American kid. A U.S. native, Hunter-Rivera moved to Italy with his family at a young age and then spent his teenage years in Puerto Rico before making his way back to San Diego.
It's that Puerto Rican heritage and experience that partially defines Island Boy's musical identity as a one-man, synth-based project incorporating elements of Caribbean music, such as SoCa and reggaeton. So, no, it's not just a clever name.
That Caribbean influence plays a major role on the sound of Island Boy's new album, Basic Instincts. Its 10 tracks, with their danceable appeal, incorporate a much more diverse and vibrant set of sounds than the stereotypical full-length set of club jams. "El Dembo Me Salvó" swings and sways with calypso rhythms and dense layers of vocal effects. And a heavy Latin thump underscores the hypnotic, exotic pulse of "Hospital Bed."
Yet, there's another, perhaps more important, island that appears to be a massive influence on Hunter-Rivera's music: Great Britain. His vocals frequently recall the detached cool of Echo and the Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch, even when the beats are turned up high enough to rattle trunks. And perhaps it's just the vintage analog synth sounds that make up the foundation of most of his songs, but Island Boy is steeped in classic new wave, coldwave and post-punk aesthetics, whether he's pulling off some darkly orchestral manoeuvres on "Too Straight," creeping into sultry goth-pop atmosphere on "Ashes" or trying his hand at gorgeously synthetic balladry on "16mm."
More than a few elements of Island Boy's approach seem familiar in some way or another, but the way that Hunter-Rivera combines such disparate influences offers something unusually novel. What makes it work is his subtlety; his vocals are never offensively hammy, nor his production too intense. In fact, he might afford to stretch out and intensify some of his sounds, but it's hard to hear Basic Instincts as anything but a successful experiment.