Islands opts to explore new, misty, sonic territory on their third LP, a departure which benefits their mystique and their cred to an immense degree. Part of the reason: the jumpy tropic pop of Arm's Way has been processed and recycled for a newer, cleaner sound. J'amie Thomas has returned, and although this homecoming would suggest Vapours should be some sort of return to form, he merely contributed to the effort, not controlling or influencing the creation process. For a band consistently pegged as orchestral pop, and seemingly static, forward momentum is both desirable and wise. And the songwriting has continued to intensify in dynamic and gregarious ways. Islands makes their next studio a mark of the most unexpected, unfamiliar, and enticing.
Part of the evolution is crafting an understatement. The complicated orchestrations of Arm's Way are dismissed almost entirely in favor of drum machines and sine waves. "The Drums" is a good example of this, a romp in pop featuring a solid 808 backbone. Speaking of 808's, one-off track "Heartbreak" even features auto-tuned vocals; a total left-fielder that winds up sounding texturally compelling and shoot me if I admit, a cool use of a stale technology. It is akin to using an easy-to-perform cheap trick to illustrate a point in mastery; Islands can sing, and write songs, so why not manipulate technological gimmicks in a commanding way?
Islands does just that with their compact writing, trading complexity for accessibility and stickiness in almost every way imaginable. Opener "Switched On" thunders a groove while the instruments play off each other with jangs, giving way to harmonious cries and synth zaps. Albeit drum machine laden, it still feels vaguely Arm'sish, but the needle of the Vapours compass is pointed firmly left, and the band progresses as such. What follows is an album of compacted pop. Gone are the finger numbing guitar riffs of previous work. Instead simple elongated riffs let melodies carry the songs, and ambitious egress abounds.
Ironically, title track "Vapours" feels out of place. The only track to prominently feature the bubble-gum horn section/string plucking combo, it feels distinctly 'vintage Islands' than progressive-beat tracks like "Devout" or mid-tempo pop rock "Disarm The Carbomb." Part of the joy of Vapours is hearing the push and pull of old and new; the Islands mythos is still ever present and often omnipotent. But, as with all great musicians, the band is stretching the boarders of their abilities. For a band that excels with excessive instrumentation, more means less horns, more beats and brevity. And Islands delivers on that game plan. -joe puglisi