I'd been meaning to check out Islands for sometime even before I became aware of The Uni-corns con-nection. Well, better late than never I reckon as this is a really good record. In fact this really should have made my Top 25 of '08 list. But, alas I slept on it until the very last week of December (BTW thanks for hookin' it up E-Man).
Overflowing with a glut musical ideas, and divergent influences almost epic in scope, the songs here cover everything from punk to rum-soaked Caribbean percussion- sometimes in the same song (J'aime Vous Voir Quitter). And yet the album is cohesive (something Return to the Sea seemed to lack), possessing an over-arching vibe that is vaguely Balkan folk, due to the quantity of prominent string arrangements.
The syncopation in Pieces of You combined with a flourish of violins yield a sound vaguely reminiscent of They Might Be Giants. Opener, The Arm starts with a simple vocal and builds with kick drums, crashes and jangling guitars before breaking into a big riff with generous amounts of violin and tom rolls. The bridge finds vocalist Nicholas Thornburn crooning of a "lifeless carcass in a bad ass car crash /hopefully you'll wake up soon / that's why the arm came to you" Although generally somewhat obscure, most of Thornburn's lyrics here tend to be a bit on the macabre side of things. However, the quirky pop sensibility and downright catchiness exhibited strip much of the content of it's morbidity. Abominable Snow, probably my favorite piece, has been stuck in my head for at least the last two weeks. Most of the songs here break the five-minute mark. Closer Vertigo (If it's a Crime) a sonic panoply spanning 11+ minutes is basically a synopsis of the album.
The lavish production of Arm's Way is remarkably slick for an independent release. And whoever engineered this obviously knew what they were doing. All of the songs have lots of layers, but are expertly blended with plenty of dynamic range to boot.
A lot of folks have declared this somewhat of a let down, but I have to disagree. I think there's something for everyone here.