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Islands, ‘Arm’s Way’ (Anti-)

Spencer Kornhaber // June 4, 2008

A lot of indie-pop bands catchflak for making sickly-sweetsongs, but Islands have adifferent vice: the sweetly sick. Since the early 2000s, Nick Thorburn has been penning morbidly sunny-sounding anthems — first as a member of the brilliant broken-pop trio The Unicorns, then on Islands’ apocalyptically catchy 2006debut, Return to the Sea. But with this follow-up, Thorburn eclipses his past work in terms of gore per minute: From hemorrhages to hangings, nearly every track highlights some terrible way to die.

Luckily, there’s a method tohis misanthropy. Arm’s Way is an album of quick changes, rescues, and escapes, equating the shock of death with the shock of realizing that you’re alive: On “Abominable Snow,”Thorburn meets a yeti andthen observes, dumbfounded and ecstatic, “yet I didn’t die.” Omnivorous genre-picking — metal riffs on “The Arm,” new-wave rhythms on “Creeper” — and jubilant folk-boogie break-downs are the soundtrack to Thorburn’s epiphanies. While Return to the Sea achieved a sort of sparkling infectiousness, Arm’s Way strives for — and often reaches — prog grandeur.

A slew of languid, lengthy tracks at the album’s center almost kill the buzz. But whenever it seems that Islands are losing you, Arm’s Way coughs up a moment so beautiful it might make your heart swell and burst into a bloody, disgusting mess. Thorburn would love nothing more.

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