Sure, disappointments are hard lessons learned. There’s the kind of let downs where failing seems inevitable and on the flip side, there are disappointments where you push and struggle and still come up short. Ever extensively study for a test, feeling confidently ready to find out you only got 26 out of the 40 questions right? Ugh, what a drag because well, at least you really tried and still, it didn’t work out. So how about putting all of your crazy, loose, extroverted eggs in one basket and hoping they all work together to deliver something glorious and instead, it’s a dud.
While it carried its notion of ambitious expression, there is no doubt that Arm’s Way was an exercise in epic self-importance. And although Return to the Sea definitely held some ambiguity as well (the rapping breakdown, the instrumental meltdowns) the difference in the two stances was the way the latter moves made the album feel uniquely thrilling. So it’s not a surprise that following the lukewarm-cold response Arm’s Way received that Vapours explores the tighter, tight-knit hooks and riffs that they’ve always been capable of. The first few songs make certain that everyone knows where they’ve gone, where they’re at now and where they are going. The basic use of drum machines is a noticeable change and the fact that the music is segmented into these neat “verse-chorus-verse” methods make for successful endeavors. Islands makes it all look easy because unlike other bands, the members have already honed their strengths and are ready to employ them at first call.
Maybe Islands just isn’t the kind of band that can create those hugely orchestral albums because even in the ‘easy’ tense, Vapours is a deliciously decorated album. The slide guitar on “Disarming the Car Bomb” finds Thorburn crooning to his most easily found Chris Martin and even the sweet accompanying vocals all add to an energetically gifted sound. Then everything breaks away to find Thorburn dancing away to the sound of a rickety piano; perhaps this is the most epic they should get.
It’s a retreat to the simpler way of making music: with the use of guitars, drums and never allowing any song to get past the five-minute mark. Lead singer and songwriter Nick Thorburn told the story of how he needed to relinquish his grandiose ideas of filling every crevice of the music with silly ideas regarding metaphors and poetic prose. So instead, he decided to make something substantially easier to follow and was quoted as saying, “This record is just made up of sequenced programming, synths, drum machines, guitars and real bass.”
There’s even something MGMT-like about the opening synths of “Heartbeat” before Thorburn puts his auto-tune to creatively fantastic results. Free and inviting, there’s nothing to get serious about here, other than openly expressing the steady tone of love. Elsewhere, on the breathtaking keyboard-driven swoon of “Tender Torture,” Thorburn is left with emotionally-charged music to pair with his longing desire as he sings, “And I’ve seen some great things, but I don’t wanna see anything, if I can’t see you.”
Making good on all of these ideas presents a truly remarkable win for Thorburn and his loyal band. Forget the previous disappointment and do yourself a real favor and return to the island, post-haste. Vapours isn’t just a welcome addition to the band’s collection but it’s a welcoming album filled with tremendously rich highs, blunt and honest lyrics, melodic music and captivating hooks.