Sunday, 1 November 2009

Vapours - Islands

(Anti-Records 2009)

By Joseph Nockles

Switched On, the opening track from Islands’ third album, presents the listener with a series of follies. In the first minute we’re promised an awesome beat-heavy album, then panic sets in as they unveil some new Frankie Valli style barber shop harmonies. Fortunately, this quickly shifts into the familiar realm of Nicholas Thorburn’s luscious vocals coupled with a new sythy sound which is more than welcome.

Unfortunately, this disjointedness continues throughout, with no commitment to any one sound. There is more emphasis on drum machines than in the past, but this is never sustained long enough for it to be labelled their beat album. The Frankie Valli sound re-emerges most notably on title track, Vapours. Thorburn successfully pulls off this newfound crooning for the duration of the verses, but allows the chorus to plunge into what could by now be an overused signature Islands melody, but at this point of the album is just a well needed, comforting return to familiarity. Thankfully, the verses are flourished with an almost ironic brass section hinting that there might still be a pinch of humour left in this newly grown-up collective.

Overall, that might be the fundamental problem with this offering. Islands have grown-up. At times they appear to be shuffling towards the more credible, marketable stylings of Air and Zero 7 and abandoning the epic, grandiose performance pop of their previous albums.

In the past, they’ve produced massive indie-pop foot-stomping anthems without for a second compromising the intelligence or artistry of the music. This album lacks. You won’t find yourself blaring out the lyrics of Tender Torture (a wonderful title which just falls short of its potential) as you bounce down the street, in the same way you might have done for Rough Gem or The Arm. In fact I’m not sure what the modern Islands gig goer is supposed to do these days. Bop along to the first 30 seconds of a few tracks? Rave to the last 20 seconds of The Drums (interestingly, the only point at which it escapes a tiring feux-reggae beat)? Or struggle to stand up in a boredom induced K-hole like the entirety of a Massive Attack audience?

It’s not an entirely flawed album. It’s just not at all what we expected after the consistency of the first two. It's unlike Islands to settle for an unfinished record, but with this offering, they appear to have peaked on track two and allowed the album to fade out altogether by the 5th track. Perhaps it is designed for dinner parties? It can be the source of discussion for a couple of minutes then shuffle into the background once the starters are served.

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