Hard to believe that out of the blog entries thus far there has yet to be an album review. Well that all changes right now. I guess I just found it hard to get motivated about any recent new albums that I’ve heard, instead opting for a pseudo-retro indie phase that had me rummaging through the depths of late nineties fare.
Islands has, since 2007, been in my top five favorite bands; probably in the top three. My specific tastes crave music rife with introspection, eccentricity and passion. I might occasionally get into certain bands more as a personal fad than true adherence to their music.
Islands is different, however, and belongs to that elite strata so often sought but seldom found in my experience. Their first two albums though starkly contrasting from one another are incredible works of aural art. The dark-light dialectic that plays between “Arm’s Way” and “Return to the Sea” is apparent with, even with limited exposure to each. While Return to the Sea is whimsical and fun, laden with afro-caribbean beats and eclectic instrumentation; Arm’s Way is an exposure of what lies inside, a visceral foray into the dark human psyche heralded by a grim narrator. Each posits an aesthetic that can hardly be matched by any other band in completely different ways. Something that gives an almost visual appeal to the band in the mind’s eye.
It is with that exceptional reputation to live up to that the third Islands LP Vapours is borne into. On Vapours Nick Thorburn helms yet another musical pilgrimage into his own strange little world. Gone are the reticent natives and playful creatures of Return to the Sea; so too abandoned are the stalkers and disembodied limbs of Arm’s Way. We also find the Islands accompaniment strangely devoid of harrowing strings and playful ukuleles. In their stead is a collection of 80’s esque synth beats that dominated “Creeper” but much more subtle.
Subtlety, in fact, seems to be an aim of Vapours as all the instrumentation has been stripped down to its bare minimums and feels much less crowded, but also a little more lonely. The tunes are catchy and lightly poppy as ever and the storytelling is also rich; though much less than the didactic imagery rampant in the previous albums. In contrast to the elaborate frescos of Arm’s Way and Return to the Sea, Vapours feels distinctly minimalist.
With this album Islands have definitely delved into an alternate universe parallel of themselves and come across very different, but still ultimately very successful. Never a stranger to experimentation Thorburn reaches a new excess in his utilization of auto-tune on the album’s “Heartbeat” track. Similarly there is a digital element to this element that feels so much more robotic than any of the band’s previously released tracks. To do a track by track review of the album, to me, would feel improper and infringe upon the individual listener’s first impressions, so I leave it at that.
There is much uncharted territory being explored by Islands on this latest album. Though it greatly contrasts instrumentally with the two previous album it still succeeds in carving out its own niche and adhering to Islands’ own unique brand of indie. Thorburn’s lyrics remain ubiquitous, weaving throughout each song skillfully and forcing the mind into image laden submission. The result is one branded in typical Islands fashion; impeccable aesthetic appeal juxtaposed with finely crafted wordplay.