Whale Bones‘ debut full-length is nothing short of pristine. The Indianapolis-based project is primarily the brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Nathan Kane. Kane crafted the album in his own studio, directed the video for Backyard, and even captured the stunning cover photos. It’s more than fair to say he’s an artist in the truest sense of the world, and “Island Fire” is, to some extent, a multimedia project.
For those unfamiliar with Whale Bones’ brief discography, rest assured that the project’s youth is unfairly deceptive; 2015’s “The Seaside EP” was the first taste of their sound, showing a mix of post-hardcore, progressive rock, indie, and even post-rock. It’s undeniably dynamic, and thankfully none of this is lost on “Island Fire”.
Fans of American Arson, The Dear Hunter, Unifier, and Least of These will find things to enjoy here. “Island Fire” carefully sits on the intersection of pop sensibility, musically technicality, lyrical vulnerability, and intentional artistry. Whether it’s tremolo guitar, auxiliary percussion (bells abound), or layered vocals, there’s nothing amateur about this album.
The album’s title track kicks things off: reverberating guitar lines, drumming that sounds like a hail storm, and strained, passionate vocals give a good taste of what Whale Bones have to offer. Despite its quieter intro, the track quickly picks up speed. It’s a short track – just under three minutes – but it’s incredibly dynamic. If anything, it’s a slap in the face to most other intro tracks.
Island Fire moves seamlessly into I’ll Try. The two are lyrically-distinct but ultimately feel like a seven-minute epic. Needless to say, these two songs are a very strong way to start the album. I’ll Try is a personal favorite; it builds upon its predecessor and is certainly dynamic, but it’s characteristically heavier. The ending is certain cinematic, and it’s it’s a great close to this “chapter” of the album. If these two songs were released as a single, I’d certainly be satisfied. The cohesion and sense of closure are certainly evident.
However, Inaction breaks away from the seamless pattern and shifts gears a bit. Pop punk elements blend with technical drumming for a track that still has plenty of energy and drive but maintains some degree of the “fun factor”. Inaction showcases a more traditional song structure compared to most other tracks on the album, but the ending build is refreshing and raw.
Reciprocation features some of the heaviest moments on the albums. Bass is the largest culprit here, with a much stronger focus here. The close this time is decimating rather than lamenting, and I’m sure the crowd will go wild when it’s played live.
Begging for Light serves as a refreshing interlude that segues smoothly into the passionate Desperate Lie. Desperate Lie is another standout track, encapsulating all that Whale Bones does well. Vocal parts are carefully augmented by careful use of falsetto. Guitar and bass roar. Kane’s voice is gritty and perhaps a bit reminiscent of Manchester Orchestra at times. It’s not the most technical track by any measure – guitar lines primarily revolve around palm-muted chords which unfortunately conjures images of 80’s hair metal bands.
Once Bitten helps solidify the strength of the middle of the album much the same way I’ll Try serves as the backbone of the start. It begins hazy and heavy. “Now I feel like a stranger / I don’t feel any love at all,” Kane laments before the track picks up a bit and adds in percussion. This is one of the most captivating moments on the whole album – everything is carefully in place and most of the emotional context is due to what’s left out. The track builds as expected, though the close here isn’t as wild as some of the other tracks.
Twice Shy is another interlude, though it’s much fuller than Begging for Light. In fact, vocals could easily work here. It’s yet again a dynamic powerhouse – and there’s a lot going on with percussion here. While some listeners might be inclined to skip instrumentals, I’d really encourage you to take a listen. It’s a far cry from soundscapes and stale post-rock that seems to plague the industry.
Backyard follows with yet another change in direction. At this point, it feels like there’s a pattern to the album – shifting between heavy endings and soft beginnings. Here, finger-picking is front and center. It was an odd choice for a single, and it definitely threw me for a loop when I first heard it. It does build similarly to its counterparts, but it does feel a bit out of place. At the same time, it’s a refreshing change in pace.
As the album nears its close, Contrition doesn’t show any signs of weakness. It’s much like its predecessors in many ways: dynamic, passionate, and technical.
“Island Fire” closes on The Warmth, which seems to serve as a counter part to the Island Fire/I’ll Try opening. At almost seven minutes long, you can certainly be assured it’s progressive: everything seems to coalesce nicely here, and there are even musical motifs taken from parts of the album mixed in for a sense of closure. The album ends as quietly as it began, which is a nice touch.
All in all, “Island Fire” is a very strong debut. Kane’s portfolio is certainly strengthened by his work here on the production end, and there’s a lot to love musically. Unfortunately, the album does feel a bit formulaic at times – while the dynamics within songs are refreshing, the crescendos start to get old quickly. To some degree, it’s evident there’s one mastermind behind it all, and while the album already is fairly diverse, it could probably use some additional perspective thrown in. With that said, the album doesn’t suffer all that much. It’s nicely segmented, with standout tracks sprinkled throughout. From start to finish, there aren’t really any “bad” songs, and it’s simply refreshing to hear a good rock album these days. It’s only further proof there’s gold to be discovered in the Indiana scene.
For fans of: Thrice, The Dear Hunter, Unifier, American Arson, Circa Survive