The last album from Montreal odd-pop ensemble Islands was a resoundingly unwelcome departure. Arm’s Way substituted proggy self-importance for the group’s winning musical playfulness, which served only to deepen the labyrinthine spiral begun by Nick Thorburn’s already metaphor-rich and death-obsessed lyrics. The contrast that made that atypical singing voice sing—and kept those words from weighing too heavy—was gone and, along with it, Thorburn’s longtime musical partner Jamie Thompson. But the erstwhile Islander rejoined the archipelago for the band’s third LP, Vapours, and the results are—thankfully—as goofily serious as the album cover would suggest: Thorburn looking purse-lipped and dour behind a glammy, pinkish-hued haze.
In case it’s not yet clear, Thompson is that haze, and he blesses these songs with a levity that seems to flow from his collection of drum machines and sequencers. When “Switched On” opens Vapours, it’s with the same joyful aplomb that welcomes listeners to a latter-day Eno/Byrne collaboration. A programmed beat spliced with unsourceable samples, bursts of guitar, and bits of tropicalia forms the bed for a totally acceptable pining indie pop song. Other tracks dwell in E.L.O.-like synth wizardry (“Devout”) or hew toward a more guitar-based groove (“Disarming The Car Bomb”), but each maintains a newfound cool, which must be the result of Islands’ principal dudes realizing that they could live without one another, but that they’re far deadlier songwriters together.