Describing a band’s sound is a seemingly impossible task. There have been countless times where, when asked what a particular band sounds like, my only response is an incoherent ramble that offers nothing in the way of useful information, followed by a half-hearted shrug and the decree that “you just have to check them out”. I find it hard to convince people to listen to bands with anything other than a reassuring “trust me” because the outcome will more times than not be that they return disappointed by the unrequited comparisons you gave them. Suddenly, something that was meant to just be a generic jumping off point turns into an unfulfilled promise. That’s why I try to not describe new music to others in those terms, and also why that strategy tends to not work on me. I don’t care that this band has Brand New listed in their RIYL because there is no way that comparison won’t mislead and disappoint me.
But last week, that changed.
My fellow editor Connor approached me with the upcoming record from a band he had long been championing, The Island Of Misfit Toys. Having spent time recording the podcast with Connor, I have a pretty strong trust for his tastes (his slandering of the classic film National Treasure notwithstanding). But he still offered a quick, one sentence synopsis of the band’s sound, one that unequivocally sold me.
“They’re like if Max Bemis fronted a folk band”.
That was the sentence that got me in, but once I was in, it was clear that there was so much more.
The Chicago-based band has been around since 2010, with one full length and several EPs under their belt, but as their Facebook puts it, “All of this, however, has been leading up to the next Island of Misfit Toys release, I Made You Something”. The LP, released via Broken World Media, is a whirlwind of sounds and aesthetics that never sits still long enough for you to box it into one particular genre. Each song radiates out from its starting point until it has shifted itself into something entirely new. The sheer ambition oozing from I Made You Something is a feat in and of itself.
Musically, the band has deep and diverse bench that they draw from. The guitars find themselves taking on a myriad of sounds, from the soft strums of the bare-bones “Angelswarm” to the thundering distortion of opener “Bath” to the post-rock screeches of “Scaffolding”, but they are hardly the back bone of the record. Banjos, flutes, and synths are just a few of the other sources that The Island Of Misfit Toys reach into as they build their dream-like layers of sound.
The band also possesses a strong theatrical feeling to it, both in composition and in execution. As I mentioned, the songs grow and build throughout, culminating in a final two tracks that combine to clock in at a whopping 16 minutes. The ability to take the pop and indie essence of the tracks and expand them into prog rock-esque lengths is nothing short of a feat.
While the instrumentation is the foundation of I Made You Something, it is frontman Anthony Sanders’ performance that carries the record into another stratosphere. The Bemis comparison that initially pulled me in is certainly warranted, especially with regards to his delivery, but even the staunchest supporter of Say Anything would be inclined to note that Sanders showmanship and ability are on another level. Much like the music, Sanders’ voice stretches and morphs endlessly throughout the album, equally as powerful in a reserved, hushed state as it is in a frantic yell. Whatever style his voice takes on in a particular segment of a particular track, it seems poised and apt. Sanders exhibits a theatrical flair in his work, even utilizing a rapid-fire delivery that approaches rapping at times, and it never stands out as forced or corny, as so many others in this music scene tend to.
It’s hard to properly break I Made You Something down any further, as it’s sounds are so scattered and swirling, but in the most wonderful way possible. It’s not a record for everyone, as the massiveness of everything going on track to track can certainly be overwhelming, but The Island Of Misfit Toys handle that massiveness in such a way that it never feels out of control. Every shift and jolt feels meticulously planned, and the result is fascinating.