Islands’ PR guy deserves a gold medal. Their same-day dual release of two new albums, Should I Remain Here At Sea? and Taste, was certainly an attention-getter. Finishing a single album is a feat, and doing two separate ones at the same time seems like an insurmountable task. The two albums are meant as entirely distinct albums; Should I Remain Here At Sea? was intended the spiritual sequel to their debut album and is the organic counterpart to Taste, which takes an electronic spin on indie pop.
It’s an eye-catching move for sure, but it’s a monumental task to make 22 brand new songs all sound updated and different, and therein lies SIRHAS’s downfall. First and foremost, the songwriting becomes repetitive and at times is just plain uninteresting. The album lacks any distinctiveness to make it visible against the backdrop of ten thousand other indie bands writing the same tunes and the same lyrics, and in such a crowded genre, originality is the only thing that can keep a band afloat. For example, “Fear,” SIRHAS’ second track, has two minutes’ worth of valuable material but instead is stretched into four. “Innocent Man” is also pretty generic indie pop fare; though not a bad listen, it’s much too formulaic for such an established group.
According to Islands, the albums are “two facets of what I’ve [singer Nick Thorburn] long been interested in pursuing in music making. Upbeat propulsive songs (essentially my twisted version of what a ‘pop’ song could be), and more doleful, melancholic songs.” SIRHAS combines those two facets into one and is seemingly sliced right down the median, with five poppy jams followed by five more mournful, languishing ballads. “Innocent Man” ends with an abrupt enjambment in the middle of a riff; giving an unexpected jolt before the album takes a gloomier turn into the second half.
The first half has its moments of indie pop delight—“Fiction”, for example, is a light summery jam that’s pleasant with a touch of sweetness, and “Stop Me Now” pares down the instrumentation to a simplified melody that shows off Thorburn’s impressive vocal talent. The second half of the album, though, shines much brighter than the first.
“Christmas Tree” is a well-crafted and contemplative, almost confrontational ballad. The falsetto “do da-do” that appears between every verse and chorus gets on my nerves a bit, but the lyrics are exemplary, especially in comparison to the earlier songs on SIRHAS: “I was feeling old inside/Lit up like a Christmas tree/Surrounded by my family/Acting like I’m gonna die.” The next four songs are equal parts mellow and wistful. Thorburn’s falsetto on “Hawaii” gives it a wistful twist to the otherwise ordinary tune, and the last track, the dreamy, serene “At Sea,” rounds it all out with lovely harmonies and drifting, evanescent melodies.
Should I Remain Here At Sea? aims to create tension between ordinary indie pop and imaginative melancholia, but the first five tracks simply pale in comparison to the last half. It almost feels like the band took two EPs, then cut-and-pasted together just for the sake of having a whole album; Islands can explain it away as intentionally divisive, but I’m not sure if I’m buying it. While SIRHAS has some real winners, it takes serious cutting through the clutter to find those well-hidden gems.
Indie rock| Manqué Music