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Islands: Arm's Way

Islands: Arm's Way

Release Date:2008

By Raymond Cummings | Posted 6/4/2008

Thank goodness for "Creeper." A new wave-y, black-raspberry rectangle in Arm's Way's bursting tin, "Creeper" is all concise crispness and pop purpose: frosted guitars masquerading as synths and drama-escalating strings conspiring to create the illusion that you just snorted a line off a Rio album sleeve. Three phosphorescent minutes zip-pulse by quickly, leaving an ambiguity hanging: Was that song about a knife-wielding intruder or a dual-personality duel within the narrator's psyche?

With the Unicorns, Nick Thorburn made death-wish funny over twerpy, coughing keyboards and jagged guitar snarls. After that band broke up, he started Islands. Their 2006 debut, Return to the Sea, transitioned uneasily from Unicorns' barbed indie aesthetic into a showy, excessively orchestrated one. Arm's Way--an album about overcoming adversity and resisting latent evil impulses, or something--is so awash with multipart indie-pop suites, operatic pretensions, and conservatory fluff that it threatens to subsume Thorburn's ace sardonism; "Creeper"--a disguised metaphor for burying an obsolete artistic identity, maybe--represents an linear exception. Which isn't to say that there's anything wrong with how "Abominable Snow" trundles between breakneck rock, strummy-yet-martial interludes, and Beach Boys-esque harmonies, or that "Kids Don't Know Shit" shouldn't evolve from willowy musical-theater intro to post-Pavement amble to a rousing conflation of the two. For all its endless buildup, "I Feel Evil Creeping In" develops into an awesomely gospel-esque accompaniment to some comic-book supervillain's origin tale. At 70 self-indulgent, cushion-heap minutes, Arm's Way demands--and merits--complete and total absorption. With so many moving parts competing with the personality behind the music, however, this lyric from "In the Rushes" threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy if Thorburn doesn't check his tendency to overcompose: "You can walk around forever, and never notice me."

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