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Arm's Way

Rating: 4.5/10 ?

May 22, 2008
I can't count how many times I've written the phrase everyone needs an editor in a music review, but I don't think the statement has ever been more truly applicable than with the sophomore album by Islands. The problem with Arm's Way is the fact that this is considered Islands' first "band album" - and with six players contributing, the end result is not so much full or complicated as it is long. Too long, in fact.

Of the twelve songs that comprise Arm's Way, only four of them are under five minutes. While there are plenty of bands capable of engaging a listener for longer stretches, Islands are not accustomed to writing an album's worth of moving, interesting, building-to-crescendo-type songs rather than the wonderfully experimental three-minute pop gems that dominated their debut album, Return to the Sea. With six streams of input a certain amount of seemingly pointless filler is inevitable, but Arm's Way suffers from the shame of having so much of it in one collection.

The leadoff guitar and orchestration of the album's opener, "The Arm," sounds promising. It builds itself with nicely complimentary layers up until the four minute mark, after which the band over-indulges for the remaining minute forty, resulting in a struggled, pointless ending that severely compromises what had been a decent beginning. Not knowing when to say 'when' kind of sums up the entire album. There is a lack of focus throughout.

The album's standout track, "Creeper," is a good, bordering-on-elcectro mix of guitar-driven pop and sleek drum machines. Mixed with a great, tension-building string section and synth style, those elements represent a song worth building an album around, and clocking in at under three and a half minutes "Creeper" is a song rather than a listless voyage. "J'aime Vous Voire Quitter" hints at those styles as well - a fun, pop gem with heavy guitar bravado and a taste of world music beats, not to mention the obvious (though friendly) revenge theme (due to former first mate Jamie Thompson leaving the band in 2006). Unfortunately Arm's Way was built as far from the shadow of those two songs as Islands could get, and the bulk of the album is a meandering mess that tries (unsuccessfully) to figure itself out along the way.

What's missing is the pop fun that lives all over Return To The Sea. Where are the guest rappers? Where are the calypso-infused summer tunes? Instead of creating the soundtrack to a high school suicide note, why not take the faux-deep and über dull, repetitive sounds of songs like "We Swim" and add a dash of the fun from the first album? Not only is it not fun, the second half of Arm's Way is comprised of some of the most boring music I've heard this year. In the era of cassette tapes, this album's side B would never get a listen. The decision to end the album with an eleven-minute "epic" song only adds insult to injury.

I've heard that Nick Thorburn is a dick. Having never personally made his acquaintance, such sentiments are beyond my verification. If music is to be taken as a statement, however, Arm's Way is almost a manifesto of dickishness. Perhaps the attention Thorburn garnered for the excellent work with his previous band Unicorns, not to mention Islands' brightly creative Return To The Sea, has caused his head to inflate. Arm's Way certainly plays like self-indulgent back-pattery, and like most things enamored with their own cleverness, it just feels kind of rude.

Nine of Arm's Way's twelve songs start with legs, but ultimately suffer from an inability to respect their limits. Unfortunately that's not where the problems end. Not only is there far too much happening at times ("The Arm," "Pieces Of You") there are also points where the Islands' ship docks in Boringtown and drops anchor ("Life In Jail," "In The Rushes") for far too long. If a happy medium between the two could be established, Arm's Way might have been remarkable. With so many hands on the wheel, Islands' "band album" suffers from a distinct lack of direction. Take out the boring segments of repetitive blandness and ditch the tasteless cacophony of sounds that make appearances rather than contributions, and you're left with a pretty decent album rather than a messy kitchen tended by too many cooks without a recipe to follow.

Reviewed by Bob Ladewig
Having been introduced to good music by his sister in the early years, Bob Ladewig has been searching out all the best in indie music ever since. He also rides a skateboard and performs/directs comedy shows and, like all great men, he\'s afraid of really growing up.

See other reviews by Bob Ladewig



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