Sensory Overload: Fake Islands has good ideas, but focus needs refined

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From the May 16, 2013 edition

Ideas are what make a band exciting. Songwriting is what helps those ideas cohere and connect.

You better believe Fake Islands has ideas, but last Thursday the Columbus quartet often splayed those ideas across 4th Street Bar & Grill like kid marksmen still learning how to wield powerful weapons. It was messy, but you know they’re going to kill once they refine their aim.

The Godspeed You! Black Emperor tattoo on Anthony Rowe’s bicep suggests he appreciates music that rewards a lengthy attention span, so maybe it’s asking too much for Fake Islands to edit its songs more ruthlessly or to more frequently ground its spaced-out post-punk skree in pop approachability. Maybe this music requires time and immersion to be fully appreciated. That’s certainly true of mid-’80s Sonic Youth records like EVOL and Sister, albums that came to mind whenever pop instincts shined through the chaos and Fake Islands switched gears from brainy to breathtaking.

When the band congealed into a powerhouse Thursday, it was because they locked into crystalline melodic bliss-outs indebted to My Bloody Valentine’s pre-Loveless era or relentless noise-damaged onslaughts that hearkened to Godspeed’s most torrential sonic downpours. Not so much when they let their samples and effects-laden guitar and keyboard lines float directionless over dazed Joy Division rhythms, and definitely not when the music devolved into whiny, wailing balladry.

It’s not that I object when a band is driven by rhythm more than melody — the combination of visceral drum hits plus programmed beats throttled me, mostly in a good way — it’s just that sometimes these songs didn’t seem to be going anywhere. There’s a difference between building tension and taking unnecessary detours, a difference between making a racket and purposeful deployment of sonic carnage. I got the sense Fake Islands was missing out on maximum impact by letting its muse run wild.

They certainly enjoyed themselves, particularly happily hopping bass player Rob Miller, whose enthusiasm was contagious. I was most compelled to join in the celebration during the last song, which played a sprightly guitar melody against an attractive low-end bomp-bomp then funneled into a big finish. That one was right on target.