Arm's Way

Islands

Anti-, 2008

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/05/2008

Islands’ apocalyptically infectious debut is one of those discs I’ve worn down to the seams. Uniformly incredible, Return To The Sea zipped through sunny calypso and thrumming hip-hop beats and morbidly catchy tales of brittle bones, catastrophic volcanic explosions, and setting up home inside of a whale.

Their latest, meanwhile, following the abrupt departure of drummer Jaime Thompson (formerly J’aime Tambeur), is all pained, haunting darkness: lyrics obsessing over hemorrhages and hangings and dog attacks are buoyed by theatrical, ever-building string arrangements, stabbing drums, and the insistent warble of multi-instrumentalist Nick Thorburn. It’s a bloodbath, really, but a strangely pretty one nonetheless.

But for all the ominous energy that pulses through this disc, it never quite captures the sheer breathlessness of Islands’ debut, largely due to a long string of epic tracks that, though sonically lovely, are left to percolate a little too long and don’t seem to chart any new waters. Still, things start off well enough and stay that way through the first half of bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
Arm’s Way. “The Arm” sets off the album’s sprawl, beginning with lush violins and synths that, with a sudden curdling howl, give way just as quickly to a stomping guitar line, staccato piano, and lilting harmonies. Next up, “Pieces Of You” is pure jauntiness, the sweetly sinister lyrics (“They found your bones in the homes / Of a thousand little gnomes / Who’d taken pieces for decoration”) paired with silky instrumentation and Thorburn’s soaring voice.

“J’aime Vous Voire Quitter” hurtles a not-so-subtle attack at Tambeur (“You said you had my back / But I was attacked by a pack of dogs frothing at the mouth / Stabbed in the face, glass in my guts”). The crunching, chugging guitars and snarled vocals soon give way to, of all things, a warp-speed “La Bamba” breakdown. It’s scathing, visceral, and a little silly -- which is Islands at their best.

Arm’s Way hits its peak with lead single “Creeper,” a synthy disco-pop stunner that demands your attention right from the start as Thorburn’s jagged croon marbles with the swirling guitars: “Right from the start I was stabbed in the heart / Didn't know I wasn’t breathing / Didn’t know I had been bleeding.” It’s a strange sing-along, to be sure, but delightful nonetheless.

Unfortunately, that’s where the momentum begins to break down. Sure, there are some essential moments to be found here that make each song worth at least a listen, from the fragile falsetto of “Kids Don’t Know Shit” to the “Lust For Life” jam in the middle of “Life In Jail.” But where the rapid-fire tempo changes of Return To The Sea were routinely surprising and inventive, they’ve become too predictable, jammed in inevitably in each song. Not to mention, it’s all awash in a despairing hopelessness that belies the sinister yet bouncy charm of their debut.

Ultimately, Arm’s Way gets bogged down in its own baroque sensibilities, piling on section after section after seven-minute track as the album shambles towards its seventy-minute runtime.  Islands still is largely brilliant, evidenced in the album’s stunning first half, but the potential is a little too squandered here, and there’s nothing worse than that from a group as capable and creative as Islands.

Rating: C+

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© 2008 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Anti-, and is used for informational purposes only.