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Islands

Arm's Way

Format: CD   Release Date: 05/20/2008
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Islands' Arm's Way isn't a complete disaster, but it flirts with it before ending up as merely a seriously flawed and unenjoyable album. Their debut was a ramshackle mess of kitchen-sink experimentation that worked a treat thanks to the band's endearingly weird arrangements and undeniably catchy songs. Much like an album by front man Nick Thorburn's previous band, the Unicorns, there was humor and devil may care attitude coursing through the grooves. Arm's Way makes the mistake of taking things more seriously, bathing songs in strings and arranging things so slickly and epically that you have to check the liners for a Dave Fridmann production credit. It's not there but it might as well be as large chunks of the record sound like Mercury Rev outtakes. Unfortunately like that band's late period releases, there's a hole where the soul should be. Tracks like "The Arm" and "Kids Don't Know Shit" sound bloated and Thorburn's constant bouts of dramatic over-singing give the album a desperate and affected feel. One of the best aspects of their first album was the playful sonic weirdness that was organically integrated into their sound; here it seems grafted on at the last minute. The faux-Latin jam in the middle of "J'Aime Vous Voir Quitter" sounds like Buster Poindexter wandered into the studio, and the bit on "In the Rushes" where they lift the conclusion of the Who's "A Quick One While He's Away" only serves to remind you of how it's possible to be epic without being over-bearing and cold; these attempts at adventurism fall embarrassingly flat. The songs that do work on Arm's Way are the few that strip back the bombast and show a little bit of restraint like the slinky disco rocker "Creeper," the relatively calm and melodic "To a Bond," or the melancholy ballad "Life in Jail," which incorporates the strings and oboe into the fabric of the song instead of just splashing them on top. Well, the first half of the song, anyway, until they break into a silly swing jam and then proceed to head back to the more familiar over-the-top territory of the rest of the record. Arm's Way is the sound of a band forgetting what made them fun and highly listenable and instead grasping for a grand statement that is far beyond their reach. ~ Tim Sendra, Rovi

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