“Islands in the stream … No one in-between ... How can we be wrong ... And we rely on each other, ah-ah ... From one lover to another, ah-ah!”
That’s the best part, the “ah-ah!” Montreal’s Islands has released its highly anticipated third record and from the first few spins, it’s pretty damn good. Not Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton or Barry Gibb good, but it sure has some sweet pop gems that’ll put you in the mood for lovin’. The album features the return of founding member Jamie Thompson, who left the group in 2006 stating that he was “not sure that being in a successful band is all that important to [him] anymore.” Islands continued during his absence, partaking in successful tours overseas and releasing its second full-length, Arm’s Way, in 2008.
Vapours consists of 12 carefully crafted eclectic drum machine-synth pop songs. It has less of an emphasis on layers and textures and more of a focus on rhythm and placement. At the same time, it remains consistent with the band’s previous catalogue of hook-driven indie dance-pop hits. No particular standouts but every track complementing the previous. Vapours shines.
-- Lyle Matsuura
Puget Sound Records
Why is it worth reviewing the tracks from a one-time tour of a documentary feature film soundtrack that never materialized? Two artists: Kid Koala and Wolfmother. The Canadian Koala (Eric San), along with hip-hop producer Dynomite D (Dylan J. Frombach), once upon a time created the score to a film-to-be. The tracks were completed, but the film wasn’t. However, the soundtrack garnered the attention of Wolfmother’s ex-rhythm section -- keyboardist and bassist Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett -- and a collaboration was born.
With signature fast scratches and psychedelic rock influences with guitar riffs and house-like male vocals, the live tour performance features six turntables playing off of Ross and Heskett’s sounds. Melodic bass lines with intensely and eerily fuzzy dark guitars create a gripping ambience, one that is enough to picture oneself in a futuristic action movie, but not so loud as to be annoyingly head-splitting. The veteran DJ understands sparseness and key uses of crescendo. If you can get your hands on a live recording, listen to the tracks in the background or crank it up and put on head-hugging ear for an ideal audiophile experience. -- Margot Seeto
Neo soul meets synth? In Little Dragon’s Machine Dreams, Japanese Swedish singer Yukimi Nagano is the dream, and her bearded bandmates are the well-oiled machine. They create artfully danceable gems, futuristic pop music and a track list that reads like a cryptic poem (with the last phrase, “Blinking pigs, come home/Fortune”). The most exciting of notable bands to hail from the Nordic land of Volvo and Stellan Skarsgard, Little Dragon has created a collection of brilliant lushness as a follow up to their 2007 self-titled debut. “Runabout” brings back the feeling of carefree Saved by the Bell mornings, and others like “My Step” and “Swimming” have a calming familiarity thanks to Nagano’s smooth crooning. It’s as if Erykah Badu vacationed in Sweden and ran into The Knife, or if Janet Jackson partnered with Jens Lekman instead of Kanye West. All tracks have synth quirks to keep a pop-fatigued listener interested, balanced with enough pop to win new fans. They are poised for crossover success. Not because they’ve been featured on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, but because they have an eye on the future and one foot kicking out classic melodies sung by the most interesting Swede voice since Robyn. -- Christine Vilar
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
Know Better Learn Faster
Kill Rock Stars
There’s something about Thao Nguyen that leaves me dazzled and dazed at the same time, and I can’t quite pinpoint it. Maybe it’s her intrinsic nature to drink folk songs and sweat rock ‘n’ roll. Or the quality of her Karen Dalton-esque vocal phrasing, crafting haunting melodies like a cold breeze creeping through an open window, over a raucous medley of guitars, keys and horns. Possibly, it’s her paradoxical ability to spate sex in a lilting whisper. “Oh, bring your hips to me!” she exclaims in “When We Swam,” a chop ‘n’ pop toe-tapper that encapsulates heavy-handed drumming and a choir of oohs and aahs into three minutes of pure catchiness.
As a whole, the album’s arrangements are full but never oversaturated, which stands as a testament to the multi-instrumental talents of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (comprised of Adam Thompson and Willis Thompson). While Know Better Learn Faster will neither tear you to shreds nor shed your tears, it does offer a nice remedy for those afflicted by diabetic pop or hard-hearted rock. -- Ryan I. Miyashiro