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Rival Island elevate into a dream-pop fantasyland on ‘Year of the Butterfly’

 

Massachusetts guitar-pop group Rival Island are one of those bands you feel like you’re friends with without ever meeting personally. Over the past few years we’ve travelled with the gents across the North Shore, from a townie talent show on the Lynn/Saugus border to a roller rink up in Beverly.

This week, we’re being transported somewhere much less physical and very much more a fantasyland, as Rival Island’s new EP Year of the Butterfly lands with uncharted dream-pop destinations in sight. This six-track effort is a remarkable piece of music that evolves their sound from the retro swirl of their recent origins to a more refined guitar-pop sound, elevating the band’s aural game to a place alongside your favorite Real Estate and Local Natives records.

The highlight of Year of the Butterfly is the melancholic “Steel Tide,” a true Song of the Year contender that lifts and pulls with such urgent precision, it could be among the sharpest songwriting to come out of Massachusetts in a hot minute. The guitar tone alone is something of a wonder, and it warrants repeated listens to absorb everything going on just beneath the surface.

 
 

Rival Island admit this new release — self produced by the band, mixed by bassist Michael Swanson, and mastered at Salem’s Godcity Studios — is “a departure away from the stripped down songs off of [previous record] Heroes and Villains and a move into more complex material and sounds… a true reflection of our need to always progress and venture into new territory.”

It’s an impressive lift for Rival Island; a band that’s built a name for itself on the fringes of whatever we’re calling a music scene these days, and continues a narrative of a project so comfortable in its own creative skin, it’s seemingly unafraid to take songwriting risks.

Here, it pays off in spades.