CD Reviews: Islands, the Cool Kids and the Headie Berrie

'Islands are forever' Islands' sophomore effort, "Arm's Way," is a bit of a survivor record. Just over two years ago, the Montreal group -- its chief songwriter, Nick Thorburn, in particular -- received what should have been a crippling blow: Dru...

'Islands are forever'

Islands' sophomore effort, "Arm's Way," is a bit of a survivor record.

Just over two years ago, the Montreal group -- its chief songwriter, Nick Thorburn, in particular -- received what should have been a crippling blow: Drummer and co-founder Jamie Thompson (aka J'aime Tambeur), who had been with Thorburn since their days in the Unicorns, wanted out. Now.

To make matters worse, this news came after a tour stop in Denver. Needless to say, reviews of the following night's performance weren't too kind: "This obnoxious a****** Nick Thorburn, who didn't acknowledge the crowd once and didn't say anything, played like he didn't give a s***," said one attendee, according to Thorburn in an interview with Pitchfork.

But Thorburn and crew have soldiered on, crafting what may very well be this year's "Neon Bible" or, perhaps more appropriately, "Odessey and Oracle."


While nothing on "Arm's Way" quite matches the near-flawless output of either Arcade Fire or the Zombies, it comes awfully close on occasion.

The album opens brilliantly with "The Arm," a satisfying builder that's ... utter divinity.

It seems this young band has a knack for piling on an eclectic array of instruments (Cloud Cult would be so proud) and -- this is what distinguishes them from the rest of the pack -- actually making something of it.

For the most part, that is.

See, when this approach works, it works, but the songs are often bogged down by way too much going on.

In the same way the stripped-down "Hurt" efficiently rounded out Nine Inch Nails' 1994 masterpiece "The Downward Spiral," "Arm's Way" could have benefited from leaner production at times.

In fact, Thorburn had actually considered Jeff Lynne for this album's producer -- to make a "good, good pop record," no less.

There's no doubt in my mind that that album would've been a masterpiece of the utmost listenability, but the Thorburn-penned anthems with a darker edge, especially "Pieces of You" and "I Feel Evil Creeping In," probably would've suffered.


While "Arm's Way" isn't perfect, it will surely age well, revealing itself over time and fulfilling Thorburn's dream of Islands living on forever.

"Arm's Way" is out now on ANTI-. Check out for more info.

Cool Kids busy bringing '88 back

The Cool Kids is perhaps the most aptly named group in the entire hip-hop universe.

Everything about "The Bake Sale," the group's second EP -- from its decidedly "lo-fi" cover to its throwback sound -- screams made by a couple of cool kids.

Like Spank Rock and Benny Blanco's explicit "Bangers & Cash" and Blueprint's impeccable "1988" before it, this EP is a tribute to one of the most revered eras in hip-hop's illustrious lifespan. In the beats and breaks department, its 10 songs succeed in pulling off the pre-East Coast/West Coast rivalry sound. And to tremendous effect: "88" and "Black Mags" are two of underground hip-hop's most enduring tracks since, well, 1988.

But the Cool Kids often take a decidedly more irreverent route than those acts mentioned earlier when it comes to this late-'80s homage's lyrics.

Sure, "Bassment Party" would've made a fine addition to "Bangers & Cash" (even if its retro flavor didn't extend beyond its awesome title), but "A Little Bit Cooler" reads like a tongue-in-cheek indie rock anthem. Some highlights: "You still playing Sega? / I'm cooler than that guy / What you riding on that bike for? / I'm cooler than that guy / Does that belt say 'Star Wars'? / I'm cooler than that guy."


With lyrics like that, this EP may as well have been called "Strictly 4 My H.I.P.S.T.A.Z." -- and thus completes the evolution of underground hip-hop moving off the streets and into the dorm rooms.

"The Bake Sale" is out now. Listen to highlights at .

Cities on flame with the Headie Berrie

The Headie Berrie is a real rock 'n' roll band.

Both in the sense that its members don't waste your time fussing about their emotions (imagine the guys in Foghat losing sleep over an ex-lover...) and, well, they rock.

Billing themselves as an amalgam of the Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers Band, the Headie Berrie is a band that seems to dig being easily categorized.

No matter; this young Uniondale, N.Y., band's "Morning Toast" EP is a blast. While not nearly as primal as the records produced by fellow head-on revival act Wolfmother, it certainly does rekindle the golden age of rock that was so eloquently immortalized in Cameron Crowe's 2000 cult classic "Almost Famous."

Album opener "Acid B****" would make for a great single, but the highlight for many natural born rockers will be "Blank Tablature." Its exhausting solo is the epitome of a "Guitar Hero" calling card.


Rock isn't dead, it just hides in Superior-sized hamlets outside New York City.

For more on "Morning Toast," visit the band at .

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