Nick Diamonds is really, really good at writing hook-laden, catchy indie-pop songs. So maybe the problem he’s currently facing is just that; it comes so naturally to him, he’s not trying quite as hard anymore. In fact, on Islands’ new album, it almost feels like he’s phoning it in.
It’s hard to argue with most of Vapours’ notable characteristics. Diamonds continues to silkily croon out similes and metaphors about life and love over a conventionally structured but engaging bed of rock and synth-pop backgrounds. Where the band’s last album, Arm’s Way, veered towards classic, almost proggy rock arrangements, this one inverts the formula. Many of the songs bounce and bubble along over programmed drumbeats and shimmering synth lines. The title track is a pleasant exception, a short and sweet Van Morrison-style mid-tempo rocker buoyed by the addition of a brass section. But much of the tracklist is closer to the tension-filled “Devout,” a Halloween disco with empty spaces and minor chord progressions, or the balmily bumping “No You Don’t.” Tunes like this work just fine, but don’t offer the breath of electro-excitement that a track like the infectious “Creeper” offered on the last record.
Finally, as agreeable as the whole thing is, Vapours is just never very exciting. The album may be Islands’ weakest effort to date, sharing more with Diamonds’ Human Highway project than anything even remotely Unicorns. Vapours is awkward adult contemporary, emo easy listening, uninspired indie rock… But still, the songs sound good, the instruments are played well, the tunes stick in your head. This Diamonds dichotomy may not make your year-end list, but you won’t ask for these 40 minutes back either.