Since his days with the Unicorns, Islands mastermind Nick Thorburn has revealed himself as equal parts pop genius, musical theater admirer, neo-vaudevillian, and humorous storyteller extraordinaire. With Arm's Way, he has refined these traits, crafting an eclectic, albeit scattered, album that continues his explorations of new indie-pop frontiers. The lush strings and dynamic arrangement of opening track "The Arm" set the tone as he jubilantly anticipates a brighter future, singing, "In a lifeless carcass, in a badass car crash, hopefully you wake up soon." Further along, "J'Aime Vous Voir Quitter" puns his split with Unicorns/Islands cohort Jaime Thompson. The song veers from giddy power-pop to Graceland-style African syncopation (putting Vampire Weekend to shame), while "Creeper" rides over a programmed beat, featuring one of the catchiest vocal melodies of the year.
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Arm's Way shows Islands in a unique niche of progressive-minded pop that still adheres to the ever-important hook. But challenging the conventions of a time-tested genre can be a double-edged sword. The single failing of the album is Islands' overindulgence: Arm's Way clocks in at more than an hour, and its second half is bogged down in excess and repetition. In the end, though, Thorburn's musical exuberance and diversity make the slow stretches worth the wait.