New Islands! It’s about time. I am torn on this album. At first I was mildly disappointed, then my disappointment changed into a slight liking. And finally I have arrived at this state of intense reverence for parts of the album and strong dislike for other parts. Islands’ sound hasn’t changed much since the last album, which is a good thing. What this album does provide is a more dramatic and intense sound, with moments of levity and Brian Wilsonesque harmonies. Where Return to the Sea was fun and made you want to dance, Arm’s Way makes you feel.
They don’t completely lose their dancey sound however. At the midway point of “J’aime Vous Voire Quitter” the song, fast paced and guitar heavy, lead by the yelling of lead singer Nick Thorburn, transforms into an Islands dance party, complete with steel drums, only to slow down to a sombre finish where Diamonds laments “you said you had my back, but I was attacked by a pack of dogs frothing at the mouth”
One of my favourite songs on the album, and maybe one of my favourite Islands songs on both albums is “Pieces of You”. It’s probably the catchiest song on the album along with “The Arm”. It goes through many different emotions, with beautiful violin leading the way. The song starts out with Thorburn’s cryptic message that, “the capillaries of the community are hemorrhaging on everything”. As with most Islands songs, I have no idea what he is talking about. He ends the song by singing sadly, “It’s a cold, cold world we swam into”.
The song “Life in Jail” takes a long time to get started. The first two and a half minutes of the song are just plain boring. Then the song picks up with some funky guitar and violin. The song then ends excitingly with some unprecedented ba ba ba’s. One song I really can’t stand is “I Feel Evil Creeping In”. I don’t understand why. When I saw them perform this song live at the Osheaga Festival in Montreal 2 summer’s ago I remember really enjoying it. I’m not sure really how they have changed it from what I saw live but when I listen to it on the album it makes me cringe.
The highlight of this album for me is the playing of violinists Alex and Sebastian Chow. They’re violin parts really drive the album forward and make you feel the emotions that the songs evoke. Whereas in Return to the Sea the violins were used more as accompaniments to the other instruments, in Arm’s Way they are what makes the album as good as it is. I just can’t wait to see them reproduce these songs live. And I will do just that on May 24th at Webster Hall in New York City.
1. The Arm – Exciting start
√ 2. Pieces of You – Catchiest (best?) song on the album (violin!)
3. J’aime Vous Voire Quitter – Intense
4. Abominable Snow – Nice guitar, violin and harmonies at the end
5. Creeper – Catchy!
6. Kids Don’t Know Shit – Grows on you
7. Life in Jail – Boooring, until 2:35
√ 8. In the Rushes – Tied for best song on the album! (Nice violin plucking)
√ 9. We Swim – Intense, Emotional = Goodness
10. To a Bond – Almost 8 minutes long, at least 4 of which are really good
11. I Feel Evil Creeping In – Better live
12. Vertigo – Extravagant and appropriate ending
In case you haven’t seen it, this is their video for “The Arm”: