The Mary Onettes | Islands (Labrador)

cd_mary-onettes_2.jpgIt’s gray and regretful, but also fortifying and optimistic.

Islands lurches to life with the first blinking, stretching movements from a formerly isolated Soviet bloc country, one that just got The Breakfast Club last month. It’s a dispatch from an endless Scandinavian winter, all washed-out colors, mere glances of sunlight and an unwaveringly hopeful eye toward (environmentally and spiritually) brighter days. Rarely does a batch of songs simply sound like it ought to arrive nestled in a sleeve full of stark, windswept Anton Corbijn photos.

To see this world view embodied, look no further than "Century," which proffers a deep melancholy; it’s gray and regretful, but also fortifying and optimistic. It’s also catchy as hell, a trait it shares with its disc mates. "Dare" and "Symmetry" are unabashedly retro and long on melodic, immediate pleasures, but also possess huge emotional depth. That intensity and ability to connect on a personal level is Islands‘ true difference maker, and what elevates the album above the tiresome rash of Echo & the Bunnymen-lites.

The entire record is, all at once, broad yet precise, cavernous but not overproduced. Islands by no means abandons the ’80s, but wisely adds not only chiming guitars and live drums, but also agitated flourishes of piano and cello to prop up their debut’s slightly amateurish synthy overload. The results are, quite often, innovative, dance-y and heartbreaking, as on standout "God Knows I Had Plans," a testament to sincere intentions gone awry. Opener "Puzzles" melds immediately accessible pop comfort with an expansive, arty flair, much like The Colour of Spring-era Talk Talk.

The Mary Onettes unquestionably hearken back to a certain era, although they do so without explicitly aping specific acts. Perhaps, then, it’s time to scale back the criticism and accept this kind of Reagan era-tinged indie rock as an accepted, "here to stay" part of the musical landscape, a lá British invasion, ’60s-style guitar pop. The Mary Onettes make a convincing case for this on Islands, doing it with a big heart and buoyant sorrow. A- | Mike Rengel

RIYL: a-Ha; early Tears for Fears’ less wrist-slitting moments; mid-era Talk Talk; Ingmar Bergman

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply