by Mike Evans



ISLANDS — Ski Mask
THE GOOD: Canadian progressive indie outfit Islands come back with an unpredictable fifth.
THE BAD: You take the awesome right along with the unhinged on any Islands record. Expect some extremes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Nicholas Thorburn remains the brains behind the operation, his accomplished yet quirky songwriting anchoring the album. We go from the slowly building and divine (“Becoming the Gunship”) to the campy carnival-like (“Nil”) to the seriously foreboding (“Sad Middle”) in the blink of an eye.
Most of the time, Thorburn and company pull off the experiments. But there are a few misfires. The abrasive “Hushed Tones” wanders about too long while “Shotgun Vision” feels clumsy and thrown together. But Ski Mask makes the lesser moments better when it turns the individual parts into a cohesive whole. Islands understand the strength of eclectic albums; the weirder stuff balanced out by the catchy gems.
BUY IT?: That’s up to you. Islands have made better, but Ski Mask remains a worthwhile listen.


THE GOOD: Philadelphia area indie rockers Dr. Dog return with their eighth.
THE BAD: B-Room is the same old Dr. Dog. But that’s not necessarily “bad.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: One thing these guy do extremely well is mix up their moods on an album, giving us a multi-faceted whole. On B-Room, the first record brought to life in the boys’ own Philly studio, we cruise from the airtight and catchy (“Broken Heart”) to the banjo-riddled and country fried (“Phenomenon”) to the hollow and heart-wrenching (“Too Weak to Ramble”). Sparkling piece of indie pop? “Love” will do. A rolling gem with a harder edge? “Rock and Roll” works.
Dr. Dog’s biggest shortcoming is that the guys rarely inject anything new in what they do. Their music is rather “textbook”; the offerings pleasing but not very surprising. These dudes aren’t reinventing the wheel. But sometimes you just want a good band that’s capable of wearing many different hats. Dr. Dog IS that band.
BUY IT?: Why not?

THE GOOD: Oregon indie rockers Blitzen Trapper are back with their seventh.
THE BAD: No complaints, but be prepared for another stylistic shake-up.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The past half-decade has seen the modern folk of Furr (2008), Destroyer of the Void’s (2010) prog rock tendencies and the textbook classic rock workings on 2011’s American Goldiwng. No two albums were very similar, but all satisfied in their own unique way.
Now VII finds the guys somewhat returning to their roots, but also channeling classic Beck. The new record is funky, playing with DJ scratch elements and drum loops. But adding slide guitar and harmonica takes the music away from hip-hop and into Odelay territory. Two worlds collide yet remain harmonious. Thankfully for Blitzen Trapper, this shift isn’t awkward.
Tracks like “Feel the Chill” and “Earth (Fever Called Love)” are soulful yet thoroughly modern; thick urban grooves carrying a homespun country twang. “Ever Loved Once” rediscovers small town romance while “Faces of You” is heavier yet haunting.
BUY IT?: Yep.