Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Islands - Arm's Way (2008)

2.5 ★/5.0 - 5.9

So many other journalists have written about what causes the musical anomaly known as a "Sophomore Slump", that restating it would just be redundant. That said, if you don't want to hear about yet another band falling hard on the follow-up to their well-received debut, just walk away from this review right now, because Arm's Way is a frustratingly classic case.

Here's the deal: each track on Arm's Way is bursting with ideas, but very few of them actually materialize into worthwhile songs. First track, "The Arm" personifies the album best, opening with a beautifully delicate build up of ghostly voices and crashing cymbals, but quickly ditching it for a generic, dark indie-pop tune. Time and time again throughout Arm's Way, the band induces face palms of the highest order, with their decision to make the strengths that they exhibited so well on Return to the Sea (subtlety, playfulness and catchiness) an afterthought, in favor of a sound that's darker, more progressive, and ultimately more forgettable. This choice probably comes from a new-found love for The Who, and I'm not just saying that because of the reprise of "You Are Forgiven" that arrives at the end of "In The Rushes". Each song flows like a Rock opera with a capitol R, filled with misguided attempts at drama, Prog and capturing the over the top whine of Queen at their most sinister and "serious" sounding (serious is in quotations because even when Queen were serious, they weren't, really). But all the tempo changes and excess Muse-inspired melodrama (his blood is dirty, and he likes it that way, folks!) can't mask the fact that the parts of these multi-sectioned songs that focus on the whimsicality from their debut are the only reasons Arm's Way is worth listening to at all. Check out the tip-toeing bridges of "The Arm", the chorus of "Pieces of You", the funky mid-section of "Life in Jail" and observe how much more lively, original and true to the band they feel in comparison to the majority of the forced, bloated songs they're lazily tacked onto. Jamie Thompson boasted in interviews how much more dark and complex the new album would be. But he should have known better than to overlook the fact that that's precisely one of the main issues that leads to a sophomore slump: a band consciously ditches their strengths in an attempt to avoid an album that's tagged as "too similar to their debut". One might argue that changes are necessary in a band's evolution, but it's also important to note that a change should be natural. If it's too self-conscious...well...we get a baffling mess like Arm's Way.

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