A Slice of Fried Gold

Capitalist Pig Tuesdays

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

This is going to be one of my last posts before my vacation, and I'm sure I will get on a computer while down there and write a blog or two up, but I wanted to make sure posted my recommendations for the week.

Or to be specific, one big recommendation, as that is all I have for you today.

Album of the Week: Islands - Arm's Way

This week has one major release in my eyes, and that is the second album from Islands, a band that rose from the ashes of former indie greats the Unicorns. So far, a lot of people have chimed in on the web about this album as it leaked long ago and it is a fairly high profile release after their critically adored Return to the Sea brought them into the limelight, but one review I wanted to note is Pitchfork's review.

For those that have talked to me about music, you may have heard I am not a fan of Pitchfork. I think they get off on being naysayers, and I think they are the type of people who mourn what music has become as opposed to bask in the goodness that it still provides. Not only that, but they seem to be the type to review something based on the inverse of their popularity quite often (meaning if it is well known, it's crap, and if it's a self recorded EP that is 15 minutes of terrible vocals and lo-fi production, it's genius! *ahem* Black Kids).

Back to the point, as I went on a bit of a tangent about Pitchfork. Their review gave the album a 6.2 out of 10, which is not a bad review from them to be honest. It's fair to middling, but not a pan. What bothers me is that Pitchfork uses the word "conventional" within their review as if it is some sort of crime to be that. I liked Return to the Sea, but contrary to Pitchfork's thought process, I believe what they did with Arm's Way is bring pop sensibilities and structure to a band that had displayed limited interest in pursuing that before.

And it works.

It works incredibly well. This album isn't overly polished, it still maintains the unique Islands feel. The song structures are more focused which allows the band to pin their efforts towards making the best album they can, as opposed to pontificating about how they can turn the nice sounding noise they made into music. Every facet of the band improved album to album, and there is still plenty of space for the band to experiment and get their fill of the "these walls can't hold us nature!" of the first album.

No track shows this more than "In the Rushes," which is clearly the standout track for a number of reasons. The opening section of the song is pure build up, as the guitar/bass provides a rhythm to work with and the strings plus lead vocals steadily build . From there, a powerful section with Nick Thorburn's vocals taking the lead kick off, and then we transition into a repeat of the beginning. That's when things get a bit unpredictable, as the band provides an absolutely fantastic homage/somewhat cover of the Who's live track "A Quick One While He's Away." It's the way covers should always be - respectful, but inventive.

And that last sentence perfectly defines this album. This album is respectful of the fans that came with them from the previous effort, but this time the band has reinvented them as a more conventional (but in a good way) guitar driven rock band. Still not exactly normal, but every bit as interesting as the first time around. This is on my short list for favorite albums thus far this year, and I can't imagine it won't be there at the end of the year as well.

Stream the album here and judge for yourself. It's worth a shot, I promise.


Peter said...

Couldn't agree more. The album grew on me-- I was really surprised how little of it sounded like RTTS (besides Nick's signature lyricism), but wow. Musically, it's not my taste straight off the bat, but I feel like what's so amazing about this album is that, well, my taste is changing to accommodate it. And that's a sign of a truly great album.

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