New Music Review: No Island – Sign of the Times

No Island (photo courtesy of no-island.com)

My first listen to No Island‘s EP Sign of the times had me scratching my head: “What’s going on here?”

No Island is a talented group of musicians making music.  They are based in Vancouver, BC and formed in 2009 by sax player James Wilfred Martin and vocalist/guitarist Keith Sinclair.  I’m just confused as to what genre I could peg them in.  But maybe that’s the point—genre defiance.

I disregarded my initial confusion and gave the EP a few more spins, and I’m glad I did.

The opening track, Out of the Blue is a six minute long affair, and it’s a pot-pourri of—well—everything: Organ, piano, horns, guitar, call-and-answer vocals, and even a blazing guitar solo.  No Island’s bio reads “Classic Rock for the 21st Century”, and although they’ve emulated jazz-infused rock à la Steely Dan, they haven’t quite tapped into the era as well as bands like The Sheepdogs or Bend Sinister.

But that’s alright.

Where both the Sheepdogs and Bend Sinister sound like they did in fact travel from a time machine from the ’70s and early ’80s respectively, No Island possess more of a ’00s sound (or is it now the ’10s?), all the while paying homage to the past.

Although the EP is smattered with saxophones and jazzy bass lines, the elements that bring No Island‘s music into the 21st century are both lead singer/guitarist Keith Sinclair smoking guitar solos and his vocal style.  Keith’s vocals are genuine, and in this day and age of reverb/effect heavy vocal tracks, his minimal use of these effects is rather refreshing.

On four of the six tracks, Sinclair plays some high gain, face-melting solo shreds.  As a guitar player, I can seriously respect and admire his abilities and technique;  the only problem with the solos is that they don’t seem to fit the songs, for the most part.  On the fourth track, Too Close To Home, Sinclair plays another solo; however, this time, he plays a warm, clean tone in a jazz scale that would make John Scofield proud.  This piece is arguably the most solid, well orchestrated track on the album, too.  Too Close To Home brings together every element in No Island‘s arsenal and there is no genre-overlap confusion as is found in the other tracks on the EP.

This is pop jazz, and I dig it.

On the other end of the genre spectrum is Traveller.  The band is at their “pop” climax and, perhaps, most radio-friendly tune.  The track also features a great breakdown that begins with the same guitar chug as heard in the intro.  It’s then carried into a piano rock interlude (think Dizzy Reed of GnR), and finishes off with an impressive wah-pedal laden guitar solo.

It may seem like I’m focusing too much on genres, but I can’t help it.  Musical identity crisis can be a little confusing to the listener, but there have been many bands in the past who haven’t let classification stop them from doing what they want, how they want (think My Morning Jacket, Radiohead, The Eagles), and have been extremely successful.  If No Island wants to pursue this musical venture however, I’d recommend they figure out their sound, hone it, and take it to the next level.

But I’m a critic..

The nice thing with Sign of the Times is that it does indeed grow on you—at least it did on me.  The initial “what’s going on here?” turns into more of a “I can dig it”, and the rest of the pieces seem to fall into place while genre defiance becomes unimportant.  The track that has grown on me the most would be the opening track, Out of the Blue, as I didn’t care for it much at all after the first listen.  After a few more spins, I find the vocals are at their most effective; the guitar solo is at its most ferocious, and the saxophone fills are icing on the cake.  Nicely done.

Also, from what I understand, the album wasn’t recorded or mixed professionally.  I’d be curious to hear how a professionally produced, recorded and mixed album would sound from these jazz rockers out of Vancouver.

If you’re curious to hear what I’m fussing all about, check out a few samples of No Island at their website HERE!

-Dylan

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~ by whet_hopped on December 6, 2011.

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