The music of Montreal electronica duo Isla Den is as much about mythology as melody, constructing surreal realms to house their rave-refracted pop and exploratory multimedia. Founders Ellie Manning and Michael Reale met while students at Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), bonding over a shared fascination with 3D environments and hybrid-tech designs. Virtual Garden, their latest collection, completes a trilogy begun in 2018, situating the project as both band and utopian destination – “when the world broke apart... this is where we came.”
Inspired variously by video game landscapes, lore, and Charli XCX, Virtual Garden took shape across the early months of 2020, in tandem with Covid-19 sweeping North America. With increasingly fewer IRL distractions to slow the process, they moved to incorporate an eclectic network of online collaborators. Among those enlisted were U.K. enigma Sun Angels, 777tv associate Niilas, three key members of Toronto's Bedroomer collective (Wizard Of, Carson Teal, Hudson Alexander), and long-time mentor Beau Sorenson. These contributions lend a lushness and fluidity to the tracks, refining the allure of the album's artificial paradise.
But Isla Den are just as interested in way-finding as they are world-building. Despite its Edenic premise of escapism, sanctuary, and regeneration, the EP maintains a more nuanced mood of emotional ambiguity. Manning's lyrics hone in on themes of endlessness, distance, and dreams, clouded with auto-tune and swooning over sensuous futurist frameworks fusing trap and technicolor pop: “Look at these coordinates, I don't where love is / endlessly wandering, through a long night / finally figured out, that it's a long way down.”