As the summer days shorten, we can look forward to many things with the arrival of fall. The leaves changing colour, a certain crispness returning to the air, and the release of Islands’ fifth album, Ski Mask. Only one short month ago, music virtuoso Nick Thorburn stirred up much buzz amongst the music blogosphere with the announcement that he would be releasing a full-length follow-up to 2012’s A Sleep & A Forgetting, which was heralded as one of the group’s finest to date, just roughly a year after the latter’s release.
Thorburn refers to his newest effort as “kind of a culmination of all the different things we’ve done over the years” and the tracks released on the band’s SoundCloud seem to back this up. Initial listens to both Wave Form and Becoming the Gunship showcase Islands’ trademark plush, sophisticated art rock, delivering just what was promised; an essential introduction to Islands. Still, while this album is technically and aesthetically a rehash of old ideas, the previews for the upcoming release suggest a maturation of sorts from Thorburn.
To many, Thorburn will forever be inextricably linked with his post-punk revival band from the 2000s, The Unicorns, whose sophomore album Who Will Cut Our Hair When We‘re Gone? garnered much attention from many music aficionados, including indie music authorities such as The Village Voice, NME and Pitchfork, who gave glowing reviews of the album. The same media outlets were then shocked and horrified when the band split up in early 2005 after a rigorous touring schedule, which found Thorburn leaving stage in the middle of a show, saying something along the lines of “I quit. I can’t do this anymore.”
Roughly 13 years later, the sub-mainstream music press are still parsing Thorburn’s material into some kind of indicator of what is going on inside the head of the indie rocker. One of the publications ventured that the lyrics for Wave Form suggest “a disillusion with the process of music making and of presenting it to the public, while failing to be a part of any larger trend over the past seven years.” While Thorburn acknowledges that his lyrics are largely autobiographical, these assumptions hold some level of truth but may be a bit of stretch. He insists that the album is more about relationships and the search for identity, adding “I’m not angry at my lot in life.”
A closer interpretation of the content, painting a picture of an individual on a long and arduous journey exploring life and self, would be more accurate. According to Thorburn, “I feel like we’re kind of at a crossroads and this record is kind of me just declaring forfeiture in some ways. Like the third act of a movie – just after it seems that all hope is lost, that’s when the big breakthrough moment happens. For Islands, this is us waiting for the breakthrough moment.” The new effort will even be released on Thorburn’s own indie recording label, Manque, which translates to “a person who has failed to live up to a specific expectation or ambition.” It all comes together to paint a stunning and in-depth portrait of an artist struggling with himself and his aspirations.
Positing on motivations aside, Ski Mask will seemingly be able to give the masses what they’re wanting; another assemblage of tracks combining thoughtful lyrics with sophisticated and orchestral indie rock to delight the musical palate. A slew of shows will have the band appearing at a score of venues criss-crossing across North America, starting on the West Coast and ending in the East. Lucky attendees are sure to be in for a treat.
Islands play The Media Club on Sept. 21.
By Max MaxwellBC, British Columbia