Islands
Vapours


4.0
excellent

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
September 16th, 2009 | 29 replies


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Nick Diamonds doesn't give a fuck what you think.

Nick Diamonds doesn’t give a *** what you think. From his short-lived stint as Nick Thorburn, frontman of critically acclaimed but combustible indie group the Unicorns, to forming half of AM-pop/folk duo Human Highway, Diamonds has never been one to sit long in any one place, stylistically or otherwise, and he certainly hasn’t been one to follow the waves of popular opinion. No more so is this apparent than with Islands, the experimental-pop collective Diamonds formed following the Unicorns’ self-destruction and whose debut, Return To The Sea, was an eclectic collection of indie odds and ends. Their sophomore effort, last year’s Arm’s Way, was an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink gumbo of genres and instruments, the production bombastic and reveling in its excess, the band and Diamonds going balls-out in terms of ridiculous arrangements and bizarre lyricism. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that after the lavish results of Arm’s Way, Islands latest is almost like a comedown companion to that record, one that turns Islands’ sound in yet another new direction but retains the band’s strong pop foundations.

Maybe it was all the wild, physically taxing guitar solos. Maybe it was the prohibitive costs of hiring another full orchestra. Or maybe Diamonds and company just got sick of writing seven-minute-plus songs without sounding pompous. Whatever it is, Vapours is a concise twelve-song set with nary a one going over five minutes, highlighted by the kind of easygoing, electronica-based indie pop that opener “Switched On” typifies. A rollicking drum machine and bass rhythm propel a gently flowing melody and Diamonds’ bright vocals into the kind of effortless pop chorus that Islands have always been capable of before, but never with this kind of ease. It’s what makes unassuming tunes like the thudding, funky pulse of “Devout” or the hypnotic, dreamy soundscapes of “On Foreigner” such instant pleasures, the kind of songs that immediately call to mind the dog days of summer, with nothing to do but soak up the sun or cruise down a burning highway. None exemplify this feeling more than the title track, a piece that makes a push for most accessible song Islands have ever put to record. Guitars bounce in time to a simple floor-on-the-floor thump while the bass tickles below the surface, Diamonds’ explaining, “it’s the bassline in your mind! It’s a sexy way to cry!” before the chorus kicks into sugary overdrive. And that’s before the irrepressibly vibrant brass section comes in.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Islands without a bit of weirdness, and Vapours more than has its share of oddball moments. First single “No You Don’t” is a dud, a bare piece of electro-pop that sounds as if it was compiled from a bunch of Nintendo samples and flounders in its own bleeps and boops without achieving any sort of measurable liftoff. Islands even catches the Auto-Tune fever on “Heartbeat,” a tune that initially sounds like a Discovery outtake (read: a terrible, terrible idea), before the marching drums roll in and the guitars collide with one of the album’s catchiest choruses.

Perhaps the best part about Vapours, however, is its typically Islandsian layers; for all its immediate hooks and grabbing choruses Vapours is, like its predecessors, an album that keeps on revealing more on repeated listens. Diamonds proved long ago that he is one of the more subtly witty and relentlessly sharp lyricists in the indie realm, and his songwriting, from the hilarious storytelling of album highlight “Disarming The Car Bomb” to the sly drug metaphors on “No You Don’t,” takes more space to decipher and fully appreciate than I have here. Straightforward pop tunes like the spacey synth anthem “The Drums” or the feedback-soaked roar of “The Shining” sound merely adequate the first time through, until you hear the gradual deconstruction in the former or feel how perfectly Diamonds’ horror-movie tones fit in with the feedback-soaked roil of the latter.

But for all its little complexities, Vapours doesn’t get carried away like Arm’s Way and even Return To The Sea tended to do at times. At its root this is a record that is in love with the simple structure of a good pop/rock song, one that basks in the glow of summery feel-good tunes, no matter how many are actually fairly twisted thanks to Diamonds’ off-the-wall subject matter. It’s a distinctly different sound for Islands, their most electrified effort yet and one that will no doubt receive heaps of praise and criticism for its seemingly trendy bias towards electronica-based instrumentation. When all is said and done, however Vapours reveals what no amount of lyrical obfuscation or layers of production can obscure: Islands are exceptionally good at what they do, and what they do is write remarkably unconventional yet immediately endearing pop tunes.



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user ratings (36)
Chart.
3.4
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2009


10576 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

stream: http://exclaim.ca/#albumoftheweek

album is good - when i first listened to this i was thinking 3.5 but over the course of the evening this has gotten better, as i tried to make clear in the review.

to clarify, i absolutely love arm's way

Digging: Charli XCX - Sucker

plane
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2009


6099 Comments


I was getting really excited with this review until you smack the criticism on "No You Don't." I love that song, probably the first Islands song to really catch me. From the way you hype the rest of the album I suspect I might like this a great deal, just rather surprised at the gripe.

klap
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2009


10576 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

yeah, i don't know what it is about that song but it just didn't grab me the way the rest of the record did. it just sounds dinky and more of a gimmick than a well thought-out song...compared to almost everything else on here, imo


but check out the album, you'll love it

Kiran
Emeritus
September 16th 2009


6002 Comments


I completely forgot this was coming out

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
September 16th 2009


3780 Comments


Islands have never been a band to strike me as anything other than just OK, but this was very well written.

klap
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2009


10576 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

thanks alex

yeah kirg, i was surprised when i went on metacritic and saw this on the upcoming releases. pleasantly surprised, of course

Kiran
Emeritus
September 16th 2009


6002 Comments


i'm gonna get this by the way! great review. I thought Arm's Way was a decent record but judging from the review, I'll probably like this more.

Roach
September 16th 2009


2148 Comments


Good review as per.

thebhoy
Emeritus
September 16th 2009


4461 Comments


I was disappointed with the song that was streaming awhile back. And by disappointed I mean, it sucked. But I dig Islands so I'm going to listen to the stream.

klap
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2009


10576 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

what you heard was probably "No You Don't," which is my least favorite song on the album, just to give you an idea how it stacks up

Waior
September 16th 2009


11461 Comments


How is this album not twenty years old with that album artwork?

Will get.

thebhoy
Emeritus
September 16th 2009


4461 Comments


yeah, that's the one I heard Klap. It was noticeably weaker then pretty much anything on Arm's Way.

PuddlesPuddles
September 16th 2009


4787 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Oh man, I didn't even know there was a new Islands!
And klap reviewing it?
4?

Getting today.

plane
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2009


6099 Comments


Man fuck you guys, "No You Don't" is awesome.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2009


15743 Comments


Arm's Way was not my thing surprisingly, probably won't look into this

thebhoy
Emeritus
September 16th 2009


4461 Comments


"No You Don't" is boringsauce. Arm's Way did kind of drag at some points, but it was overall pretty great.

klap
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2009


10576 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

hahaha caleb i thought the same thing

don't be such a downer adam (see what i did there), this is noticeably different from arm's way. i like both but can see how arm's way could turn off a lot of people

klap
Staff Reviewer
September 17th 2009


10576 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

needs more ratings

NotMrBlonde
September 17th 2009


395 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I really did enjoy this, a lot.

AggravatedYeti
September 17th 2009


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

this is worlds different than 'Arm's Way', and signifficantly better at that. Nice review Klap



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