Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: album reviews, Islands, Jamie Thompson, Nick Thorburn, Releases of the Week, The Unicorns
PREVIEW: DOWNLOAD Islands’ “Disarming the Car Bomb” MP3
WE GIVE IT: 15/20 Watts
Trying to right the ship after the sort-of disastrous Arm’s Way, Islands return with their third release, Vapours. For every wrong turn their previous effort took, it appears that this one at least makes an attempt at correcting it. Jamie Thompson’s return to the group has seemingly been a boon towards Nick Thorburn‘s songwriting, and the results, predictably, are much closer to the genius of The Unicorns and Islands’ Return to the Sea than the half-baked ideas of Arm’s Way.
Thorburn has come out and said that Vapours would be entirely stripped down compared to previous efforts. For the most part, it’s true, even amidst the 1980s new wave synth backgrounds and always-tropical moods. The band has gone back to basics, rather than attempting to do something earth-shattering. It’s not bare-bones, as much as it is simple, but pleasantly so. You can digest everything that happens from track to track, and never feel overwhelmed by what’s filling up the corners of each song.
Thorburn also seems extremely comfortable in this new format, which then rubs off on the listener’s experience. Just as he claimed, gone are overblown metaphors and overly-technical instrumental bits. Instead, Islands turns in a refreshing, albeit a little goofy, indie pop album gushing with enthusiasm and a youthful glint in its eye. Rarely do you see instrumentation besides piano, synth and bass, plus Thorburn’s voice, of course, which has never sounded so at ease.
On the other hand, however, one could also view the stripped-down approach as a defeat. Neither The Unicorns, nor Islands’ debut, Return to the Sea, were as simple or as vulnerable as Vapours appears. Thorburn jumps from depressed to slightly sarcastic as he sort of drifts from track to track without a definite direction. As comfortable as he appears, perhaps the change is more him conceding to surrounding factors, than succeeding in spite of them.
Mind games aside, though, Vapours marks a fairly triumphant return for a band that many had thought lost its way. Contained on it are enjoyable, interesting melodies that possess a fair amount of repeatability. The only major criticism may be not enough separation between the tracks, but even that can easily be overlooked by focusing elsewhere (like on its use of auto-tune). Islands fans, your band has returned.
— John Cassillo