Islands, the latest release from Swedish synth-rockers The Mary Onettes evokes the dreamy, wondrous land which they call home. Sweden might be known as the land of Volvo and crafty hockey players, but there’s something more and Islands confirms that. There’s a magical mystery that’s impossible to ignore. Grandiose yet never overbearing, The Mary Onettes have achieved a sonic mastery that grows with every spin of Islands.
True to form, Islands is a particularly cold listen, begging listeners to stay inside, turn off the lights and nestle up for a long winter. With powerful, expansive hooks, the 80’s leaning sound stores nuggets of strings, not the least of which are highlighted on “Dare”, a beautiful companion to the first snowfall of the season which always catches us off-guard. The track inspires a dreamy sense of hope in the kind of winters that so many of us fear. Burgeoning with harrowing vocals, Islands is a big listen. Very often I found myself taking deep breaths in an effort to take in the record.
The Cure are the most obvious association with The Mary Onettes, and with good reason. Lead singer Philip Ekström displays some rather prominent pipes. As Islands expands and retracts, Ekström pulls listeners into a vacuum and begs the kind of dedication that fans of The Cure will no doubt identify with. The strings that amplify The Mary Onettes carefree dream-pop, as on the lamenting yet powerful swarm of “Once I Was Pretty,” possess a power that will lead listeners to ponder their own mortality. But amidst the threat of tomorrow, there’s always room to dream, as Robert Smith taught us. And Islands mimics this sense of wonderment in tomorrow like so few bands can these days.
Islands even gets a little industrial at times. “Symmetry” is a chugging, beleaguered number that can’t help but groove with a downtrodden state of mind. Islands is admittedly a bit of an acquired taste; after all, the luminous shade it paints over brighter days is impossible to escape. But as “Symmetry” beats listeners into submission with up and down vocals and snarling, screeching guitars, one begins to feel comfortable behind the mask of Islands.
It’s not all doom and gloom on Islands however. Like a slowly rising sunset, “Cry For Love” takes awhile to get into, but once the tragic piano gives way to radiating guitars, the gorgeous patterns that seem to sprout up everywhere on Islands take hold and produce beautiful, sprawling landscapes. I’ve learned that it takes a specific person with a tragic yet beautiful state of mind to understand Scandinavia. After hearing the evocative, expansive synth-laden dream pop of Islands, I can only hope it doesn’t take a specific kind of person to understand this record.
“Puzzles” is the one of the catchiest tracks on the record, creating a glorious sonic landscape that bounces with potent synthesizers and gets as close as possible to pop territory. Catchy as it may be, Islands remains steadfast in the landscapes it portrays. The constraints of four-minute pop songs are defied with ease, weaving and stretching throughout said landscapes. Islands could serve as a soundtrack to a train trip. Yet like any train trip, what might be a magnificent landscape often melts into the last one you took in. Islands doesn’t really have any standout tracks, and though The Mary Onettes do rely a little too much on their influences, it’s all a matter of patience. If you can find beauty in the cold, then you can likely find beauty in Islands.
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