Release Date: Feb 14, 2012
Record label: Anti / Epitaph
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Neo-Psychedelia, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
After the various departures and returns of band members over three albums, it should be clear that the driving force behind Islands is Nick Thorburn, and on A Sleep & A Forgetting it’s more apparent than ever. The album is full of the same storytelling-in-song that Islands (and The Unicorns) have always enjoyed, but here the lyrics are sung in first person, giving the music a more intimate, personal expression. Despite the album’s sense of loss and memory, it feels more reflective and post-cathartic than simply “sad.
Nick Thorburn has been the unbreakable backbone of so many quirk-infused amalgamations. There was The Unicorns, beloved lo-fi staples hailing from the great white north. There is Th' Corn Gangg, spawn of Unicorns, marriage of indie and hip hop. Human Highway, Mister Heavenly, and Reefer too. And ….
Who is Nick Thorburn? Up to this point, it's been hard to tell. As figurehead for the six-years-strong Islands, he's been an artistic vagrant, switching from strummy, beached Graceland-isms, to avant-rap experiments, to overblown indie pomp, to squishy, Auto-Tuned synth-pop-- sometimes, within the same record. Side projects like Human Highway and Mister Heavenly have gone great lengths to mine his appreciation for the garage pop of the 1950s and 60s, but have revealed relatively little; last year's pay-what-you-want solo album under his Nick Diamonds alias, I Am an Attic, was a cleaning-house collection that didn't provide much help either.
IslandsA Sleep & A Forgetting[ANTI-; 2012]By Chris Brancato; February 13, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGA Sleep & A Forgetting, the fourth album from Nicholas Thorburn’s most successful outfit Islands, finds the band conquering new territories and offering a previously unexplored level of maturity and first-person storytelling to their songwriting. Not only is Islands' latest album rather bleak, but it is also the most personal. Typically known for releasing quirky pop, A Sleep & A Forgetting is anything but.
Islands, long known for their idiosyncratic, psychadelic indie-rock, have returned with a low-key album less about free-associative lyrics and more about one of the most relatable things in life—heartbreak. Heartbreak albums can typically be either brilliantly heartrending (like Blood on the Tracks) or they can be wallowing and self-indulgent (808s & Heartbreak). For Islands, thankfully, A Sleep and A Forgetting is largely neither: it’s just very good.
Review Summary: Nick Thorburn hates Valentine's Day, too!As a Break-Up Record, A Sleep And A Forgetting checks off all the boxes quite nicely. The story has been written a thousand times before, but trust Nick Thorburn to inject some high drama into it: A Sleep And A Forgetting comes after Thorburn endured a messy end to a relationship last Valentine’s Day and spent much of the past year in the care of a wealthy older patron (a woman, natch), who gave him a place to stay and a piano to pontificate on, the modern-day Romantic come to translate his tears to the ivories. It’s a record that wallows in clichés, be it in its release date or in its backstory or in its straight-to-the-gut lyrical matter, and for a band that’s always been the indie pop standard-bearer of bombast and glam, it all feels oh so very tragic and more than a little contrived.
Albums born out of sorrow can usually go one of two ways: the principals can wallow in their grief and create unlistenable, hard-to-bear work or they can find a way to make their pain relatable and universal while writing some good tunes, too. On Islands' fourth album, A Sleep & a Forgetting, Nick Thorburn does a pretty good job of the latter. The album deals with the dissolution of his marriage and the upheavals in his life that followed, and unlike previous albums where his words would dance around meanings and emotions, and the music was full of weirdness and artifice, Thorburn and the rest of the band play it straight all the way through.
It seems that every time I listen to Islands, I'm pulled back to The Unicorns. Every single time. As a result, I'm trapped in a constant loop of evaluating them on their changes from a band of my teenage years to a band of my 20-somethings, backing away from those comparisons, taking a break to let it sink in, and trying again — only to have the relation pop back up again.
The fourth album from Islands sees main man Nick Thorburn in a transitional phase. In the aftermath of a breakup, his songwriting's become more introspective, while he's also stripped back all the futuristic glam production touches of past recordings in favour of a bare-bones live-off-the-floor early-60s R&B feel. It's immediately enjoyable, but suffers on repeat listens due to a lack of variety.
When Nick Diamonds reverted to Nick Thorburn, his given name, before the release of Islands’ second album, the change signaled more than just an artist shedding a silly stage name. On a deeper level, it symbolized a transition away from the childish, oddball aesthetic of Islands’ first album and his previous work with the Unicorns, a concerted bid for maturity that’s left his consequent output strained and lifeless. The frustratingly messy early work was never exactly thrilling, but it buzzed with strange instruments, grand concepts, and unconventional song structures.
No matter how much we want them to be, Islands are not the Unicorns. Since Nick Thorburn and Jamie Thompson struck out on their own, the group have been viewed as an extension of the famed Montreal trio, rather than a separate entity. Thorburn, in particular, spent the band's first three records simultaneously embracing and running from that expectation, but fourth time out finally finds his voice.