Release Date: Sep 22, 2009
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Sounds like The Killers, but better This whole album is good, just know that up front. You can do what the kids used to do—“buy” this music at a “record store”—and you will be happy. But let’s say you want to go track by track. First download “Disarming The Car Bomb,” a burbling rocker with an endlessly re-playable outro that sounds like Springsteen hooting over a battered barroom piano.
The knock on 2008’s Arm’s Way was two words and one hyphen that no musician likes to see attached to his name: self-indulgent. It was probably a fair accusatory lob at Islands song-crafter Nick Thorburn, especially since the guy got blog famous on the back of brittle pop ditties about being a Unicorn, and Arm’s Way was a sprawling, bug-eyed epic of an album, one that eschewed easy hooks for dense instrumental flameouts. So, it’s not necessarily surprising that Thorburn has beat a hasty retreat to the open arms of the quirky pop he helped popularize this decade.
In the past, Islands frontman Nick Diamonds has spoken about the impact of whales and coastal living on his music. On Vapours, the group's third studio album, the ethereal mysticism of undersea life comes through regularly, especially on tracks like On Foreigner, which features subtle rockabilly riffs, dreamy synths and a hook so angelic you forget you're listening to an indie rocker in his late 20s. [rssbreak] Like past Islands albums, Vapours exhibits a strong focus on vocal melody, something that comes naturally to Diamonds, also of Unicorns and Human Highway fame.
Islands have a problem. It’s you. And it’s me. Vapours is their sugar-coated, poison response to their detractors. The prog-rockish Arm’s Way alienated listeners looking for the band to replicate the Graceland-tinged, pre-Vampire Weekend, genre-hopping of their debut, Return to the Sea. The ….
When Jamie Thompson and Nick Diamonds started their second post-Unicorns collaboration-- the first was Th' Corn Gangg, remember?-- it made perfect sense that they should call it Islands. With breezy calypso rhythms, honeyed country-acoustic guitars, bubbly/silly synthesizer effects, and summery melodies, their debut, Return to the Sea, was a wonderful getaway soundtrack, obscuring its death-haunted lyrics with bright arrangements and rich, coconut-scented production. On Islands' second album, however, storm clouds descended: Arm's Way found the band down a member-- Thompson amicably departed before its recording-- yet ballooned into a six-piece, and the bloat was audible.
On their previous album, Arm's Way, Islands inflated the sweet and quirky sound of their first album, Return to the Sea, into an unwieldy mess of overly ambitious arrangements and overcooked songwriting. On 2009's Vapours, the band and songwriter/vocalist Nick Diamonds have scaled back the sound considerably and delivered an album of mostly straightforward indie rock with enough lyrical and sonic weirdness to keep things interesting. Plenty of vintage synths, cheesy drum machines, and off-kilter arrangements can be heard, as well as songs with the typically strange lyrical imagery Diamonds has dealt out since his days with the Unicorns.
Sure, disappointments are hard lessons learned. There’s the kind of let downs where failing seems inevitable and on the flip side, there are disappointments where you push and struggle and still come up short. Ever extensively study for a test, feeling confidently ready to find out you only got 26 out of the 40 questions right? Ugh, what a drag because well, at least you really tried and still, it didn’t work out.