This is a review of "Satellites" recorded by Five Mile Island. The review was written by Jessica Thornsby in 2009.
Leeds-based outfit Five Mile Island follow up their debut demo, released earlier in the year, with their first full-length 'Satellites.' Three of the five previously demoed tracks have made it onto this release and while they still have all the original flaws, it's encouraging to compare them to 'Satellites's new songs. Five Mile Island have grown more adept at working around their limitations, and have learnt how to showcase themselves in the best possible light.
The three songs that owners of Five Mile Island's demo disc will be familiar with are 'Safehouses' 'Fossils' and 'The Golden Age.'
All three of these tracks are the glimmery indie-rock that Five Mile Island favour, but 'Fossils' is the strongest of the trio. It blends sparkly guitars with stop-start drum lines and a bass that throbs to an irregular beat. This judder means that on the rare occasions when 'Fossils' slips into a free-flowing groove - such as the smooth ascent into the chorus - by comparison it's a sudden headrush that sounds bigger and more anthemic than it actually is. This is particularly positive, as Five Mile Island seem to really struggle to deliver musical density. Maybe it's a reaction to frontman Owen's vocals, which aren't the strongest in the world, but Five Mile Island often lack clout. By infusing 'Fossils' with angularly addictive grooves, and playing them off moments of sudden, rushing energy, they cleverly deliver maximum impact.
'The Golden Age' is the second strongest "original" song. A steady shimmer, twinkling with bright chords and coiling slowly around itself, it uses the tried-and-tested method of repeating a snippet of already-lulling music, to utterly hypnotic effect. That dewy, lullaby-like meander may drag on a fraction too long, but Five Mile Island kick it into second gear for the final minutes, unleashing a tidal wave of sound, crammed with screechy slides and fleshed out with plenty of distortion, to give it extra muscle. 'The Golden Age' proves that Five Mile Island do have it in them to make you sit up and pay attention.
The final of the trio, 'Safehouses' is a sparkly indie-rock shimmy, underpinned by snappy drumbeats that give it a fun, clap-along energy. Owen's vocals are, as always, a sticking point, but his trembly, semi-spoken, semi-breathed vocals are a reasonable fit for 'Safehouses's light indie-rock. Song highlight is a booming, lurching chorus, which hints at a heavier, meaner side to Five Mile Island, that they'd be well advised to explore in the future.
Onto the new material, and 'Sensurroud' is the perfect song for Five Mile Island. It colours in the gaps between their often sparse sound with waves of static, and Owen's vocals are also distorted, giving him a bristling, punkish snarl, which cleverly disguises the fact that he's basically speaking the lyrics. 'Sensurround' is a single-minded, static-soaked rush for the finish line, and presents Five Mile Island in the best possible light.
Vocal distortion also features on the sinuous, bass-drenched shimmy of 'Swansong,' which sees Five Mile Island nail that NME-friendly 'indie-cool' vibe; and 'Borderline.' The latter's frenetic chord-work and springy drumbeats, is atypical Five Mile Island, but with a shot of appealing pop-punk energy. Combined with those crackly, mock-punk vocals, 'Borderline' is the third in this trio of songs that make the very best of what Five Mile Island have to offer.
'Land In Sight' and 'Editing Suite' are two strong indie-rock songs that'll have you wishing Owen could nail those big notes needed to take them to the next level. 'Editing Suite' is foot-stamping stadium-rock, awash with sharpened guitar lines and stirring melodies. Unfortunately, Owen's voice lacks the strength to match the emotionally-engaging music, and 'Editing Suite' never quite becomes the powerhouse it could be. Meanwhile, 'Land In Sight' is a perfectly put-together song that ticks all the necessary boxes: jangly, glimmery chorus; slick bass groove; darting, edgy chord-work and crunching riffs. However, it's lacking those all-important vocal hooks, particularly on the chorus, meaning that 'Land In Sight' is enjoyable, rather than unforgettable.
Thankfully, the vocals aren't always a sticking point. On dewy album-opener 'Floods,' Owen speaks the lyrics to the tune of the song, which actually brings additional character to this sedate meander across delicate soundscapes. 'Time To Leave' walks a similarly simple, glimmery path of expansive-sounding, but rather insubstantial, instrumentation that doesn't encroach on Owen's wishy-washy vocals. In an interesting contrast, Five Mile Island underpin 'Time To Leave' with bone-popping, off-kilter drumbeats, which makes for a quirky indie-rock judder, with a subtly beautiful flipside, rather than an exercise in pretty-but-pointless self-indulgence.
Despite the professional packaging, 'Satellites' is still the sound of a band in transit. There are some clever tricks on here, such as the distortion used to flesh out their rather bare musical bones, and their habit of coating everything in glistening chords. However, a lot of the songs lack 'oomph.' Extra helpings of hooky riffs, catchy vocal lines and tighter drumbeats, would have made this decent-to-good collection of songs, even better. 'Satellites' has the makings of a strong album but, at the moment, Five Mile Island are lacking fire.