Islands Disappear by Said The Whale

To say Said The Whale has had a good year would be an understatement. Not only winning awards and selling out shows, they also released Islands Disappear, their second full length (or first depending on how anal you are). The majority of the album was recorded live off the floor; which I fully admit, I am a sucker for. It almost always gives the album a more warm and spontaneous feel to it, and Islands Disappear is no exception. The album revels in enthusiasm that would have no doubt been lost if it wasn't recorded as such.
While their previous Howe Sounds/Taking Abalonia was, as its title might suggest, more about Vancouver, this album takes a broader look at Canada, and is no doubt influenced by their trips from coast to coast touring.

The short and mellow "Dear Elkhorn" is a perfect intro track, easing the listener in before launching into the gang vocals of "Out on the Shield", which races to its climax, and is the first of many undeniably catchy songs on the album. Next up is one of my favourites off the album, "B.C. Orienteering", which is an almost acoustic duet with friend of the band, Hannah Georgas about the perils of, well, orienteering in BC.
"Camilo (The Magician)", arguable their most popular & "breakthrough" single, brings everything together for what is quite possibly a perfect power pop piece, and where it leaves off, "Emerald Lake, AB" picks up. The tempo slows a bit, but the unbridled enthusiasm keeps soaring, until the title track, "Islands Disappear" kicks in with its moody drums and crashing cymbals, which segues perfectly into "Black Day in December", which builds in intensity til its end.
The layered, and slightly self-deprecating, "Gentleman" proves that not every musician is the clich├ęd swaggering arrogant, and manages to bare some insecurities, announcing "I'm an uncool Canadian kid / awed and inspired by all the popular guys" who "need[s] a small-town girl to follow me home and teach me how to be a real man." Another couple mostly acoustic songs follow, "False Creek Change" exploring the changes of the city since Expo '86 (and I can't help wonder if there will ever be an equivalent song regarding the Olympics) and "A Cold Night Close to the End" delving more into the bands more romantic side.
"The Gift of a Black Heart" shows the band at their musical best, starting simple then building layer upon complex layer until the grand and nearly epic finale. It flows nicely into "Goodnight Moon", a song I've already raved about, and my love for it has grown even more since then. Starting slow and calm and lullaby-esque, just when you think it's about to end, the band launches in and the gang vocals start for the most raucous, joyous and energetic ending. It's songs like this that are strongly improved by recording live off the floor; no way would it have worked without that pure enthusiasm that is more than apparent. Closing out the album, "Holly, Ontario" is a perfect bookend to "Dear Elkhorn", both musically and thematically, and encapsulates the album as an individual experience and story, rather than just a random collection of songs.
As well, the band has managed to amass some of the cream of Vancouver's crop to help out on the album. The album include folks from bands like Hey Ocean!, The Zolas, Dan Mangan, Shane Nelken and even CBCR3 DJ Lana Gay, and that's just for the gang vocals on both "Out On The Shield" and "Goodnight Moon".

While it may be too early in Said The Whale's life to call this a "career defining" album, it is definitely worthy of a place on anyones "best of '09" list. There is a subtle restraint to the album, with a noted focus on substance over style, and that would have been the downfall of a lesser band. But with Islands Disappear, Said The Whale gives an excellent album that proves they have what it takes.

Download Out On The Shield

Download BC Orienteering

Download The Gift of a Black Heart

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