Montreal’s Unicorns had good songs, but they were one of those indie pop acts that gets by mostly on goofy charm. Their cheap-sounding instruments, unpolished playing, and silly onstage puppet shows were part of their appeal, and the whole act was appealing enough that they actually hit the Top 40 in Canada. Still, after the Unicorns broke up, few people expected the band’s Jaime Thompson and Nick Thorburn to go on to something as musically adventurous as their next project, Islands.
The new band’s 2006 debut Return to the Sea was a high-spirited and eclectic mix of sounds and styles from a large pool of players. It was warmly received by fans and critics, and it seemed that Islands was headed for big things. But by the time the band’s second album, Arm's Way, was released last month, Thompson had left Islands, and Thorburn’s musical ambitions had run away with him.
Arm's Way is full of catchy vocal hooks and impressive arrangements, but it’s so packed with ideas that by the time you get to the abrupt change from punky indie pop to Latin dance in “J’Aime Vous Voir Quitter,” you’re exhausted. And that’s just the third song.
To be sure, it’s better to have too many ideas than not enough. But Arm's Way blurs the line between hypercreativity and madness. Though Thorburn’s voice sounds almost overbearingly upbeat, he’s singing about blood and guts and car crashes in almost every song. “The capillaries of the community/ are hemorrhaging on everything,” he sings at one point, sounding like a lunatic on a city street. Let’s hope he reconnects with his old goofy charm soon.
ISLANDS, Epicentre, Thursday, June 19, 8:30 p.m. 858-271-4000.