Spy Island made it clear they were a band deserving greater recognition on their first two albums, and with 2012's New Milesian Kings, the obscurity of these Portland indie rockers is starting to seem a wee bit perverse; a group this clever and tuneful at the very least merits a healthy cult following, and the fact they can rock convincingly at the same time makes them all the more deserving of some sort of breakthrough. Like 2010's At the Vegan Witch Trials, New Milesian Kings manages to combine the playful, exploratory vibe of a homemade recording with enough chops and technical knowhow that you don't feel like you picked up someone's demo by mistake, and the loosely tight performances (once again hitting a middle ground between Pavement and the Flaming Lips) turn their buzzing guitars, splashy drumming, and occasional bursts of saxophones into something sounding almost epochal on tunes like "The Punchline" and "Cat Avatar," while quieter numbers such as "Lonely Accomplice" and "Queen Zombie" show they can straighten up a bit and still deliver something compelling and quite beautiful. Lead singer Dale Nicholls sounds equally at home belittling tweeny emo fans and embodying a shipwrecked geisha, no small feat given the concrete limitations of his instrument, and his vocal partner Lucy Martin gives the songs a generous sense of dynamics and drama, while guitarist Jonathan Barker and multi-instrumentalists Rian Lewis and Akila Fields lend the melodies a framework that's a lot more stable than they appear on first glance. At a mere 28 minutes, New Milesian Kings is that rare album that could actually stand to be longer, given the quality of what Spy Island have to offer, but as it is, this is smart without seeming smug, clever without seeming callous, and thoroughly engaging without sucking up to the listener. It's a great album from a band that has quietly been making a lot of satisfying music, and it wouldn't hurt one bit if you started paying attention to them.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming