October Music Reviews: Islands, Gossip, La Roux

Islands, Vapours (Anti-) – Once a schizophrenic, overstuffed Montreal outfit full of potential, Islands have finally learned to edit. The result: an infectious and weird third album that was worth the wait. Lead singer Nick Thorburn, more commonly known by his stage name Nick Diamonds, and his crew have stripped away the orchestral layers and theatrical pomp that turned the band’s sophomore album, Arm’s Way, into a bloated, highfalutin’ rock opera. What’s left is masterful, refreshing synth-pop, served up pure and simple. Snappy drums drive the album’s first single “No You Don’t,” while Thorburn’s charming, spot on lyrics come through loud and clear — “Don’t buy dope from the man you don’t know.” What he said. –Alexandra Vickers

Gossip, Music For Men (Columbia) – Disappointingly, Beth Ditto and company’s follow-up to Standing in the Way of Control favors formula over originality. All the key Gossip elements — Ditto’s demanding tenor, clanking guitars, hard-kicking drums and high-hat accompaniment — are in place, but the spirit has been micromanaged: Music for Men is Gossip, tamed. This less-than-sparkling effort includes the single “Heavy Cross,” which sounds like an outtake from their more Control’d efforts (read: more Franz Ferdinand, less Aretha Franklin). — Foster Kamer

Air, Love 2 (Astralwerks) – The title of stylish Parisian duo Air’s sixth album proves typically inscrutable: while there is no Love 1, the goth prog recorded here sounds like a sequel to their 2000 soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides. Spooky minor chords, ominous ambiance and krautrock rhythms make this the perfect score for a ’70s horror film or tragic romance — or The Virgin Suicides 2. The willfully avant atmospheres may be off-putting at first, but after sufficient listens they gradually take on a powerful slow motion immediacy. — Matt Diehl

Florence + The Machine, Lungs (Universal Republic) – This much is true: lead singer Florence Welsh has some thundering pipes. Supported by backing band the Machine, Welsh’s huge voice dominates every moment of this debut and firmly establishes her as a major player among modern U.K. chanteuses. But while Florence has obviously spent her youth listening to Kate Bush (like Bat For Lashes) and Etta James (à la Adele and Amy), she has an unhinged, unpredictable streak all her own. Typical of all tracks on this album, “Kiss With A Fist,” an exuberant rockabilly meditation on domestic abuse, is perverse and undeniably powerful. — M.D.

La Roux, La Roux (Cherrytree) – La Roux has captivated the U.K. with all the speed of their rapidly paced songs, reviving the ’80s faster than you can say, “R.I.P., John Hughes.” If their sound is a bit more Human League than Breakfast Club — no detention here — at least their name is inspired by front woman Elly Jackson’s signature Ringwaldred cowlick (La Roux means “red-haired one” for those who ne parlent pas français). With songs like the reckless and emotive “I’m Not Your Toy,” “Colourless Colour” and “Tigerlily,” a new wave homage to MJ’s “Thriller,” Jackson and partner Ben Langmaid have all the ammo they need for Stateside success. — Cayte Grieve