A few years back I walked into this band, unintentionally, and they’re melodic popscapes have since been part of my valued collection. Really, it’s hard not to love a good band from Sweden. Alas, The Mary Onettes return with their latest album Islands. It’s still got that sweeping emotional grab to it, though listeners familiar with their older work will be able to see that the band sounds much larger than they ever sounded in the past.
“Puzzles” just steps up the band’s reputation from the get go. You’ll find that shrouded wall of noise opening the album, but the electronic bounce that brings the song full circle will catch you in its grandiosity. It bares the mark of Ekstrom’s delightful vocals, warm and dark one minute, then pushing for the upper limits of catchy melody. This is all followed by “Dare,” which was issued on the Dare EP earlier this year. Two for two from the opening moments.
One of the interesting steps aside for the group comes on “Cry of Love.” It’s full of negative space, almost a dark void, but filled with Ekstrom’s brooding vocals. And in the middle of the song, level drumming comes in, almost as if it’s meant to just move the song along until the end. This is one of the band’s moments where they show restraint, scaling back the melodic attack on your ears, quietly sitting in the middle of the album.
And just like that, the winds of the album have turned, well, they’ve calmed down rather. Large bursting sonic pop-tarts are being replaced by a steadier hand in the middle of the album. “The Disappearance of My Youth” and “God Knows I Had Plans” definitely take a turn away from the bombastic jump-start of Islands. For me, this provides a subtle change in the band’s dynamic, which enables the group to push more variation into their songs.
But, the darkness returns with Cure influenced “Symmetry,” which oddly, is one of the best moments on the record. You can hear the eighties in the song, almost too much, but then again, the band has always bordered on being labeled as relevant nostalgics. And with this, they’re off again, jumping right into “Century,” a song aided by pounding drums and sky-high vocals. It’s like Glasvegas-lite, and you know your heart can’t fight that sort of audio attack.
And there you have it, another successful album by The Mary Onettes. Nothing is daring on this album, but nothing need be. You’ll find yourself with an album worthy of harmonies and brooding, just like you remember them talking about (or maybe you participated) in the tail-spin of the eighties. Still, there progression and perfection of pop music labels the group as more than classic revisionists; if anything, they’re definitely relevant, as Islands clearly proves.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/01-Puzzles-1.mp3]
Download: The Mary Onettes – Puzzles [MP3]