Jun 3, 2008

Arm's Way-Islands

"Arm's Way", the second album from Montreal's Islands is a grand and exotic journey into places unknown and seldom traveled. It is many things. Dramatic, ambitious, expansive, exhausting, satisfying, fun, strange and totally unique. It has vision and scope and it without doubt a major achievement. Having said that, I am also sure it will polarise people. It's designed to be a full meal, a long trip, a exploration of ideas and sounds. It's comparable to running a marathon, not that I have ever done such a thing, it feels long and exhausting but when you finish you feel that the effort was ultimately worth it. An achievement of imposing composition.

If "Return to The Sea" was a preliminary idea of where Islands was going, then "Arm's Way" is a full blown thesis on where they have landed. The opening track on that first album, "Swans" was a gloriously sublime epic. However a lot of the album was echoes of The Unicorns, shots of pop goodness with dashes of calypso and hip hop, an amalgam of catchy melodies and exciting rhythms. It was a triumphant album, a joy to listen to, but it felt transitional. Well, the transition has occurred. "Arm's Way" is the totally epic vision of Nick Thorburn (Diamonds). With the backing of five men, ready and able, he has reached for the stars and succeeded quite grandly. Of the twelve tracks included only two clock in at under four minutes. Ironically, given Thorburn's history, these are the least satisfying. "Creeper" swings pretty hard and "J'aime Vous Voire Quitter" is a ball of energy, but you need to look elsewhere to find the heart of this record. Where better place to start then with the opener "The Arm", a dramatic rush of glorious melody. It's a cacophony of guitars and drums and strings as it starts and stops, forever encompassing itself. Dramatic is a word that is appropriate for this album. Thorburn is forever introducing a bombastic lick or a flourish of violin or a nifty piece of percussion and his voice is a display of melodrama. But it all works, all the way through. "Pieces of You" is pure pop gold, "Abominable Snow" is a thrusting beast of a song, whilst "Life In Jail" is my personal favourite. A miniature epic, its lesson of making every second count leaves a powerful impression.

If "Life In Jail" is epic on a smaller scale, then the album cranks it up for the run home. "In The Rushes" is sumptuous and majestic, before breaking into a reprise of The Who's "A Quick One, While He's Away". Again, this brash move works well, somehow Thorburn pulls it off. "We Swim" is a quietly moving number, whilst "To A Bond" is dark and deliberate, a tale of two people being torn apart. "Don't go unraveling, traveling into the blue, returned to look for you, couldn't say goodbye, the porchlight in my heart had gone out in the dark". Then the three part "Vertigo (If It's A Crime) ends it all with heroic proportions. This is music with scope and grandeur. Thorburn has constructed a piece of music concerned with broad brush strokes and themes of death and life, love and hate. Sometimes the lyrics border on the absurd, but yet also there are moments of pure honesty. His voice is always able to carry off the ideas inherent in the music. It's plaintive and aching, yet also strong and authoritative. A unique world has been created here and like most individual visions, it will be lost on some people. However, 2008 will struggle to hear a more singular vision and more then likely, a better sounding one.

MP3: The Arm-Islands


  • At June 04, 2008 , Anonymous JimJones said...

    I love this album! An entire piece of art. It will be highly placed in all real 2008 tops.


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