Published Oct 03, 2018For a while. it seemed like that might be it for Living With Lions. After shaking off the controversy over their 2011 album Holy Shit only to once again part ways with their frontman, the rejigged lineup released only a short followup EP, then barely made a peep — though they continued to tour the old stuff — for half a decade.
Of course, Island wasn't supposed to take this long; the band went through even more lineup changes, and new lead Chase Brenneman had to work through a hernia that made singing a painful, laborious process. But if their third record was to come later or never, then later is better. Seven years removed from their last one, the Vancouver natives return as if no time has passed.
With their excellent full-length debut Make Your Mark, Living With Lions emerged not as a pop punk band like all other pop punk bands, but as upbeat, authentic rockers packed with energy worthy of pile-ons and sing-alongs in bars and basements. Island finds them lapsing into more typical genre fare, but it's still easy enough to pinpoint it as their style.
It's also hard not to miss original singer Matt Postal or his initial replacement, Stu Ross, but Brenneman is far more confident and convincing in his role as frontman than on 2013's Some of My Friends Appear Dead to Me. And while there isn't one quite as rousing as "A Bottle of Charades" or "Honesty, Honestly," Island maintains the band's proclivity for big, soaring choruses, and "The Remedy" and "Tidal Wave" are high points in that regard.
Island explores the band's complicated feelings about Vancouver, as they notice the place they call home crumbling under the weight of memories and people who have come, gone or never left. The most direct references to the city, "Hastings Sunrise" and "Second Narrows," wrestle with urban malaise and purposelessness that creep into relationships and rot them from the inside out.
But it's the titular closer that broadens the scope beyond the personal: "Island" draws attention to Vancouver's epidemic of mental illness and drug addiction, specifically the opioid crisis that has hit the Downtown Eastside the hardest. It's about looking under the surface of what's been deemed the sixth most livable city in the world and addressing the deep-rooted issues that have killed thousands of people. But it's also about the joy of watching someone overcome that struggle and having hope that others will, too. It ends with a comforting line that, given the long wait, just so happens to also sum up a patient fan's reaction to the new record: "Glad you're back, it's been a while." (No Sleep)