By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
At some point after Islands released its debut album Return to the Sea in 2006, the band stopped sounding, well, fun.
The shift in Islands' musical course is an easy one to chart: It happened after drum-man Jamie Thompson abruptly left later that year, announcing his decision to leave the band mid-tour. Frontman Nick Thorburn, who on stage performs as Nick Diamonds, and the rest of the group kept sailing, though, adding new members and instruments. But, without Thompson, the band's subsequent album, Arm's Way, was clearly bogged down, lacking the wind in its sails.
Which made total sense: Originally, Thorburn and Thompson formed Islands out of the ashes of their old outfit, The Unicorns (not to mention a brief stint together in Th' Corn Gangg); during Thompson and Thorburn's time together as The Unicorns, the two formed a musical "camaraderie," Thorburn says.
Though monumentally mellower than The Unicorns, on Return to the Sea, Islands initially sparked with energetic creativity. Arm 's Way? Not so much. Now, on the band's third release, Vapours, Thompson's back and so is that carefree Islands sound. Gone is Arm's Way's layering and complexity.
The title track starts off sounding a great deal like a house band on a cruise ship, perched on the patio performing to senior citizens wearing Hawaiian shirts, while their grandchildren play shuffleboard on deck. It's not, however, all piña coladas, as the track provides its listeners with a rousing chorus—"It's some bassline in your mind/It's a sexy way to cry/ you know I've had my share of doubt/until I saw the vapours in your eyes"—before cannonballing back into the breezy sound of saltwater and spiced rum.
If anything, this is a band completely rejuvenated. While the two were apart, Thorburn says Thompson started "doing a lot of solo electronic drum machine stuff," which was perfect, actually. "That was kinda the direction that I wanted to take [Vapours]," Thorburn says. "I just asked him if he wanted to bring his knowledge to the fold. And, he was game, so that's kinda how it went down."
The new/old sound is sure to win over some fans. In fact, it already has, as Islands recently spent some time as support for the Psychedelic Furs and Happy Mondays tour, playing to a different crowd, and an older demographic than the band has in the past. As for the response the band received: "It's hard to tell because we're playing to people who haven't heard us," Thorburn says, "but we've gotten lots of little messages on Twitter."
Sure, critics and fans are likely to rejoice at Thompson's return, but, with this album, even the unaware, casual listener will notice change for the better. But what does Thorburn have to say about Thompson' s return?
"It's good," he says. "It's great. It's like an old shoe. It's a good pairing. We have a good dynamic."
More important, there are no hard feelings.
"It's nice to be able to go back to that, to have that option to make music with him again," Thorburn says. "It's great to go back and make music with, and be creative with, someone you had severed ties with."
Indeed. For fans who may have severed ties with Islands over the course of their voyage, Vapours provides them with the perfect opportunity to get back on board.