Here is the latest in what will hopefully be a regular feature at Spirit of Cecilia: a conversation about a current release from a favorite artist. Once again, Arts Editor Tad Wert joins Editor-in-Chief Brad Birzer, this time to discuss the Flower Kings’ latest, Islands.
Birzer: Somewhat surprisingly–especially given how recently the band released its last album, 2019’s excellent Waiting for Miracles–The Flower Kings is just about to release its fourteenth studio album, Islands. It comes out on October 30.
And, it’s not just any album, but a double album.
Tad, we’ve had a few weeks to listen to the promo, and I’m really curious what you think. It’s a collection of (generally) shorter FK songs, but with all the FK trademarks and psychedelic flourishes one would expect from the band.
Islands reminds me a bit of Stardust We Are in terms of its structure, but that album was more epic in reach and in scope. With Islands, however, it’s great (as always) to have the trademark dual vocal leads, but I think some of the instrumental passages and songs are simply stellar. Track 2 on disk 2, “A New Species,” for example, really stands out for its musical innovation and flow. I definitely would love an entire album built around this track, much like what a much younger FK did with Flower Power. This is the kind of track that proves that FK is still a major powerhouse of prog.
Yet, there are a few moments that make me scratch my head. The band has released as the first single from the album, “Broken,” the fifth track on disk one. While the song has some achingly beautiful moments, especially lyrically, there are guitar and keyboard passages that are lifted almost directly from the theme song of The Simpsons! Whether this was intentional and playful on the part of the band or not, I have no idea.
Still, while Islands is an excellent album, it’s very much rooted in third-wave prog.
Wert: Brad, I know the Flower Kings are one of your favorite groups, so I am honored you invited me to talk about them with you! I had a little chuckle when you said, “It’s not just any album, but a double album.” Looking at my music library, I have 13 studio albums of theirs, and no less than 9 are two (or more) discs. That’s almost 70%! I have enjoyed their music very much, but there are times when I wish they had an editor; I think some of their albums would be improved if they tightened them up a little.
So what about Islands? I agree that the songs are generally shorter, and that is a good thing in my opinion. The ones that immediately grabbed me were “Black Swan”, “Broken” (except now that you have pointed out the Simpsons reference, I can’t get that out of my head!), “Tangerine”, “Northern Lights”, and “Fool’s Gold”. A common thread of them is that they feature the vocals of both Roine Stolt and Hasse Froberg. I think when they collaborate the energy level really rises.
In their press release, Stolt says that the listener should approach this set as one long piece, which makes sense. When I first heard “Heart of the Valley” on the first disc, I thought it didn’t go anywhere; it sounded like a section of a larger epic. Well, on the second disc is “Telescope”, which is quoted in “Heart of the Valley”, so Islands really is one 90 minute suite. Once I approached it in that light, the songs I first considered throwaways took on more significance.
As Spirit of Cecilia’s resident FK expert, how would you rank Islands in their discography?
Birzer: Tad, great thoughts. Thank you for them. As much as I like Islands, I wouldn’t immediately rush it to the top in terms of rankings. My favorites from the band are Space Revolver (far and away, my favorite) and Paradox Hotel, followed closely by Stardust We Are and Unfold the Future. So, as much as I like Islands, it would rank–at least in these early stages of listening–somewhere in the low middle of their albums. Maybe around the level of Banks of Eden.
Above, when I mentioned that the album is deeply rooted in third-wave prog, I meant this more as a statement of fact than as one of judgment. What I like about my favorite FK albums is their energy and their innovation, the chances the band takes. Overall, Islands seems low energy compared to the band’s best work and innocent of any real innovations.
It’s still a FK album and that means it’s better than 95% of the music out there. But, within the FK discography, Islands ranks fairly low.
Wert: I’ll go with that assessment, Brad, although the more I listen to Islands, the more I like it. And I want to give a shout-out to Roger Dean for the incredible cover art! My takeaway: Islands is a solid effort by a band that is in no way in decline. They are still making vital music, and for that I am grateful.
I’m looking forward to Roine’s work with the new Transatlantic album that is slated for release soon!