Album Reviews

Islands – Arm’s Way

(Rough Trade) UK release date: 19 May 2008


Islands’ 2006 debut Return From The Sea paraded breezy, lush melodies boosted by guest appearances from the cream of Canada’s indie crop, Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade.

The Montreal sextet crafted a vast concoction of musical styles including pop, calypso, post rock, dancehall and hip-hop. So two years on and minus co-founding member Jamie Thompson (aka J’aime Tambeur) how has their sound evolved for the notoriously difficult second album Arms Way?

The first listen is an overwhelming and disorientating experience for a devotee of the first album – the tectonic plates have shifted closer, together leaving the band a tighter collective with a more distinct and palpable sound.

Arms Way makes you swoon with a type of grandiose, melodramatic yet orchestral pop sound enshrouded with dreamy/nightmarish surreal imagery. The themes are bleak with Nick Thorburn’s ethereal vocals spouting tales of car crashes, stabbings in the face, packs of rabid dogs, murder, jail time and fatal break-ins. The music counters the melancholy with a feast of instruments, sprawling guitars schmooze with sweeping violins, pianos, tribal drums and tambourines, which drift along at ever changing tempos.

Opener The Arm starts off with low cymbals and swooshing vocals building up to a huge growling yelp when the discordant guitars and rich string instrumentation kick in to start off what is a multi-faceted infectious start to proceedings.

J’aime Vous Voir Quitter mixes jangly punk guitars and smashing drums with Thorburns diverse vocals snarling out malevolently: “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”. It storms along at full throttle for the first half until the foot is taken off the accelerator and your consciousness is overcome with gentle yelps, smooth guitar and light percussion with the finale of placid vocals repeating the opening lines.

Abominable Snow, a song which didn’t make it onto the first album, is airy and catchy displaying post punk elements, Thornburn’s falsetto reaching mountainous heights. To A Bond opens with a violin, string instruments and ghostly vocals creating a swirling dreamy aesthetic for the duration of its 8 minutes. We get a further invitation to the dark recesses of Thorburn’s mind in the ballad Creeping In which commences with a sinister oboe sound. “In the back of my mind, I want to do bad things, I want to be unkind, when I’m in my room I love the shadows of my bad bones”.

The album ends with the 11 minute epic Vertigo (If It’s A Crime)’ mixing slide-guitar, tambourine and the rest of their arsenal of musical paraphernalia to create a towering climax.

Arm’s Way is a masterful and intricate offering progressing from their debut to create a new vision mixing a banquet of sounds and tempos to create an accomplished peace of musical craftsmanship. At times dreamy and others unsettling it never fails to captivate, enshrouding you in its cocoon of sound until the very last note.


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Islands – Arm’s Way