When it comes to music, The Island of Misfit Toys is the exact opposite of what its name implies. Truthfully, it is a bright, intelligent team effort of bonded friends. To this day, the band has retained the same vision: expand the scope of musicality, and keep rawness intact.
Just last week, this Chicago, Illinois nonet released their nine-part opus, the understatedly titled I Made You Something. Four years in the making, the album is an indie rock musical—like the underrated cousin of Say Anything’s In Defense of the Genre—or at the very least, a thematic and disciplined jam session. Its lyrical content is quick-witted, with the sole intent of highlighting unadulterated, down-to-earth life experiences. There’s also a raw verbosity about it which adds credibility to its execution. An impressive range of genres is presented, each varying in complexity. From simpler power pop and emo to the more intricate baroque and bluegrass, everything finds definite common ground.
In the first track, “Bath,” lead vocalist Anthony Sanders clings to the idea of easing the troubles of an ailed relationship. Although Sanders may describe the cleansing process in manic and borderline grotesque detail, it all comes from a true place. Under his intense delivery, the guitars are as sweet and chipper as ever. I was impressed not only with his ability to sing fast without skipping a beat—in harmony, no less—somehow making even the most difficult tongue twisters seem straightforward. The second track, “Moral Melt,” it is revealed that his state of mind has actually worsened. He seeks revenge on the one who broke his heart, eliminating any and all traces of penitence. The gut-curdling proclamation, “I’ve got the eyes/Of a dog-flogged Christ,” suggests that his well-being has diminished, his only act of closure being the ‘gift’ of a bear’s fur. During this portion of the phase, the guitars remain clean as his voice distorts to evoke the bluntness of his actions. What follows is a tender, all-acoustic number that delves into the singer’s longing to reach heaven (“Angelswarm”). I could strongly relate with his analogies of describing how it feels to experience great freedom. The main melody works extremely well with his voice, and I like the subtle tinges of other stringed instrumentation as the song progresses. I could also recall my experience experimenting being sensory deprived, and I too hope that it will not be the case “when we move on”.
Continuing his heavenly reverie in “Bird & Worm Real Estate,” Sanders requests that the angels drop him abruptly back on Earth. He ponders the outcome if he were to still be alive but consumed by nature, since his existence is deemed obsolete. Although the second vocalist in this song doesn’t have the same voice clarity, his similar scenario having to do with the fate of musicians is equally insightful. The latter half of the album is based not so much on concept, but on pertinence. It is at this point that empathy triumphs over sympathy—that the subject matter shifts to something less detached and more supportive. The fifth track, “Burble,” implies that all that is conveyed is dismissed as incoherent, and Sanders makes an increasingly bold attempt at being understood. At about the 1:30 mark, the choir marches in protest, as if speaking in defense. The latter portion contains the lines “How can I do better than my best, I’m just a kid, I’m just a kid/I’ve always been”. That signifies that even in someone’s most sincere efforts, any failure to follow through should be not only understood, but respected as well. Another song I could connect to from the second group of songs was “Singing,” particularly how it portrays one’s initial experience performing to someone other than themselves. Either they end up putting the other to sleep, they only play what the other wants to hear, or their previous anxieties from an earlier time rise to the surface. Even amidst these negative situations, a simple gleam of encouragement brightens the mood 10 fold: “so just sing”. The final track, “Architects,” does justice as a closer. It grows into a punk rock sound, with Sanders giving a touching monologue about his personal struggles. One particular portion focuses on him acknowledging his developmental delays in an academic environment, and his guided study teacher assuring him that things will work out. In fact, having experienced those difficulties myself, that is what led to my wanting to understand the entire album further.
Overall, I Made You Something is nothing short of a gem. Its stories are an eclectic mix of brutal honesty, hilarity, and downright bizarreness, all with exuberant heart. The level of musicianship is on par with the band’s ability to create engaging and thought provoking stories. Granted, they will require some time to understand with each listen. But if there’s anything a listener can take away, it’s that The Island of Misfit Toys is here to help, and most importantly, have fun!
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