Islands Arm’s Way Review
Originally written in 2008
I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Islands new album in comparison to their first, Return to the Sea. Maybe that’s a mistake and I should just forget their debut album and focus solely on Arm’s Way; but that’s proving difficult to do. On the positive side, I find it to be more consistent and less scattered than their first. Another not so positive way to look at it would be to say it lacks spontaneity and follows a more rigid structure. As it is, Arm’s Way doesn’t take the band in any new direction, it just fine tunes what they started with on Return to the Sea.
The instrument play at work here is just as fun but unfortunately less frequent than their first record. Their African influenced breakdown half way through J’aime Vous Voire Quitter is Islands at their best. Unfortunately no bursts of hip hop or country influence in Arm’s Way, Islands stick to their tried and true indie pop sound. A big part of Islands sound comes from their use of non traditional rock instruments such as the violin. On Return to the Sea they used this string accompaniment more sparingly and as a result the effect was more prominent. At times on Arm’s Way, the heavy use of accompanying instruments tended to over saturate their sound.
Islands Nick Thorburn’s vocals and lyrics have always been strong, and Arm’s Way is no exception. Lyrically the album is darker than it sounds especially Life in Jail, which still takes time for a fun calypso jam almost three minutes in. I’ve always enjoyed Islands change of pace mid song and this continues with their new album. This is a dramatic album, not just in lyrics but in sound and scope as well. Arm’s Way is not an album that can be appreciated within a single sitting. Their layering of instruments and sound is so dense and thick, it takes a while to work your way through it. At times it seems as if it’s too much, then it all comes together with a sound that can only be described as beautiful.
Arm’s Way is a long album and only a handful of songs are under five minutes. People looking for the latest three minute insta-hit should look elsewhere, there’s nothing to hear here. But for people looking for a sincere sprawling progressive album to spend time with, Arm’s Way may be just the ticket. I know the cool indie thing to do is put down this sophomore record for its lack of innovation. But I’m not going to do that, I’m enjoying this album too much. If this is your first experience with Islands, or you can look past this minor fault, I’m certain you will find joy in this album as well. They genuinely know how to write good pop songs and just like Return to the Sea it’s a lot of fun to listen too.