On their self-titled 2007 US debut, Sweden’s Mary Onettes put forth a modern take on the sounds of Liverpool’s Echo and the Bunnymen and Australian group the Church. Well, actually, not all that modern. Their original songs channeled the vibe of those and other groups who enjoyed a heyday in the 1980s. The lavishly packaged debut made few ripples stateside, despite a marketing push. And that’s a shame; tracks like “Pleasure Songs” and “Void” featured chiming guitars, textured harmonies, a propulsive rhythm section and wide-pan production values, all wedded to catchy, hook-laden songs.
November 2009 will see the release of Islands, another clutch of tunes from the Swedish quartet. The new disc serves up a recipe that is in many ways even more on-target than the debut. Ten tracks of forlorn, melancholy and windswept melodies populate the album. There’s a pleasingly indistinct air about the arrangement; gauzy production suits these songs. The listener may wonder: is that a guitar? Or a keyboard? Thing it, it doesn’t matter. Guitars sound like massed mandolins, or heavily reverbed twelve-strings. Remember how The Church’s “Under the Milky Way” sounds like bagpipes, whether it has any or not? Lots of that essence on Islands (and plenty of guitar figures reminiscent of that song’s opening as well).
There’s what some might call a sameness to the songs on Islands; in this case I prefer to think of it as consistency of vision. You’ll hear hints of Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cure, and strong echoes of fellow Swedes A-ha.
Are the Mary Onettes derivative? You betcha. They’re not really adding much in the way of innovation to the musical landscape, and if you don’t enjoy the groups mentioned here, you’re not likely to discover much to love on Islands. But in 2009 you could do worse (by turning in almost any direction, in fact). It’s worth remembering that all these groups represented the interesting end of music of 20-25 years ago; The Mary Onettes draw inspiration and sound from enduring sources, and not — heaven forbid — from the likes of Journey or Bon Jovi. For fans of a certain kind of music, Islands will elicit a wide grin, and a vigorous clockwise twist of the volume knob.
About the Author
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. After a stint as Editor-in-chief for a national music magazine, Bill launched Musoscribe in 2009, and has published new content every business day since then (and every single day since 2018). The 4500-plus interviews, essays, and reviews on Musoscribe reflect Bill's keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz, and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill's work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He regularly hosts lecture/discussions on artists and albums of historical importance (including monthly events Music to Your Ears and Music Movie Mondays), and is a frequent guest on music-focused radio programs and podcasts. In Spring 2023 he taught a history of Rock 'n' Roll at UNC Asheville's College for Seniors. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues -- more than 30 to date -- and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's final album. His first book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018, and in paperback in 2019. His second book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, was published in 2021 by HoZac Books. His third book, What's the Big Idea: Great Concept Albums will be published in 2024. Read even more about him here.