Islands: Arm's Way

When a record chirps with bright guitar hooks, strings, keyboards, and a general sense of playfulness, skeptics immediately fear an onslaught of tame, trivial indie-rock. Arm's Way, the second album from Montreal band Islands, will taunt those skeptics: It imposes some polish on the cluttered fun of 2005's Return To The Sea and singer Nick Thorburn's previous band, Unicorns, and pushes it into perversely daunting song structures. "In The Rushes" and the 11-minute album-closer "Vertigo (If It's A Crime)" let all those standard elements grope at each other and slowly cohere in a murky dance that isn't standard at all. Just as often, that instrumentation impatiently blurs the songs together, and Thorburn's vocals force many into a sweet-yet-sinister mood that feels immature. His flexibility on the stately, melancholy "To A Bond," "Pieces Of You," and "Kids Don't Know Shit" should be a constant instead of a surprise. Islands doesn't seem to fully grasp its own strengths yet on Arm's Way. Still, it's better for a band to get lost on its own terms than to stagnate.

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