In November 2014 American Sinner released their third studio album "Island of the Dolls". The title refers to "La Isla de las Muñecas" outside Mexico City, where a young girl drowned in a canal. Soon thereafter, the ferryman started hearing her tell him to bring her dolls. The island is now covered in dolls in various states of decay; a devotional monument to loss and the life that may persist after death. I haven't had the opportunity to listen to the new album until now. What can I say more than that I'm flabbergasted. This is, by far, their best album. The new album is nearly one hour long and contains 15 songs. With "Island of the Dolls" they take their music in a new direction. Their quite significant rock influence is somewhat grayed out and the sound has become more country-like, definitely softer and enigmatic. The songs on the album are darker than ever, while the vocals are more restrained compared to previous albums. I have the album in cd format, which is available through their website, click on the icon (bottom second from right). You can also buy the album digitally in the format of your choice at Bandcamp, just click on the icon (bottom left). I will now walk you through the whole album.
The album starts with ”Goat Castle". The song is based on a true story of an aristocrat (Jennie Surget Merill) and her three wealthy friends in Natchez, Mississippi, who all became reclusive. Jennie was murdered in 1932 (the Goat Castle Murder). Maybe the motive fo the murder began with a dead goat (shot and killed after eating rose bushes). The mansion was filled with books, antiques and animal feces (animals walked around freely). The song is conciously or unconciously inspired by british progressive rock from the 1970s with several tempo shifts. Anyway, ”Goat Castle" is a perfect start of the album. The last verse reads: ”Felt like tasting heaven, when we danced too close to hell / Some seal, some bind was broken. The best I have to quell it are the songs and hanging pans / But things are still slipping by / And I still hear her singing, in the woods on quiet”. The second song ”What You Break” is rock-oriented and more in line with previous albums. The song title have multiple and quite different meanings. However, the song is the weakest on the album. It’s not a bad song, it's just that I'm definitely a country guy. The third song ”Maritana" starts quite tentative before the song begins to spread out. The song is based on the story of Thomas Rowe and Lucinda de Guzman. They met each other in the 1890s but were not allowed to marry. Lucinda died young. On her death bed, she wrote this to Thomas: ”…Time is infinite. I will wait for you by our fountain to share our timeless love, our destiny is time”. Thomas never forgot her and built the Don Cesar hotel (Don Cesar is a reference to when they met). The lobby of the hotel had a replica of the fountain where they used to meet. Of course, the hotel is haunted. The fourth song ”Lila Anne" is one of the best song on the album. The song deals with the anxiety of dying before your spouse and children are sufficiently taken care of. Most of the imagery are from a half-remembered poem about somebody traveling on a train with their deceased parent as cargo. The arrangements are perfect. You find yourself humming: "Remember me to anyone still there / Though I fade with each new year". The fifth song "You'll Need Somebody" cranks up the mood and tempo markedly. It's a good song placed somewhere between their rock ambitions and country expression. The next song is "Copper Queen" which also belongs to the best songs on the album. The beginning of the seventh song makes you rather confused. It sounds like a soundtrack of a touring circus. However, the song grows on you and have cerebral cortex-sticking qualities. The eight song "Hour" makes you think that you have put a Steely Dan-album in the cd tray by mistake. The song has namely all the typical Steely Dan qualities: causal, elaborated and well-produced at the same time. Anyway, its a great song.
The ninth song is "Gold" which begins with violin and banjo-picking. The song is about a friend who used to say “I was just born lucky” and thought he would strike it rich in Las Vegas, but instead he hung himself in a psychiatric ward. The second verse reads: ”But gold is always near / And the big wheels keep on spinning / You’re figuring someone’s got to win”. The next song on the album is "483", which is inspired of hundreds of graves around an old asylum in Athens, Ohio where many of them are marked only with a number. The refrain reads: "People and places with good souls / Must taste better.. to the demon folk / We were in love in the quiet in the dark / With your hands and your eyes you took me apart." The tenth song is "Bloodshed Blues" and is one of the few weaker songs on the album. The best song on the album is without any doubt ”Judgment Day”. The song begins with guitar, choir and firm vocals. The lyrics begin with "You have to be clean / As you stand on judgment day / In robes washed white by torrents of blood / As you stand on judgment day". Of course, this particular song make a favorable impression on me. The lyrics are brilliant. The third verse reads: "So bow down kneel and pray / As you stand on judgment day / There’s a winnowing sound as your body falls away / As you stand on judgment day". The thing that is crowning this song is the drumming. There are a number of ways of arranging the drums on this song. However, I would never have thought of this arrangement. It's highly innovative and works extremely well with its marching and almost scattered rhythm. The last verse reads: "It’s gonna rain blood, it’ll rain fire / As you stand on judgment day / A legion of souls all balanced all weighed / As you stand on judgment day". At the end of the song introspective backup vocals is performed by Kiki Troo. What can I say more than music doesn't get any better than this. The next song is "I'm Haunted By You", which is a little bland compared to other songs on the album. The fourteenth song breaks completely with the rest of the album. The album ends perfectly with a haunting and downscaled version of "Bright Smile" from their first album "Revival". The last song closes the circle. And finally, the overall assessment: This is a very solid album with well-crafted songs, sparse instrumentration, well-balanced vocals and worked-through arrangements. The album is fully coherent from a thematic point of view apart from the next to last song. But, this is a peripheral remark. The new direction for American Sinner is definitely the right direction.
If you click on the icons below they will open in a new window, from left to right: American Sinner's Bandcamp page, American Sinner's Facebook page", American Sinner's homepage and Lyrics and the background of the songs.