Since 2005, Islands has been an ever-changing, technicoloured musical project to which multiple talented artists have contributed, creating an illuminating discography of indie rock and avant-pop tunes. Contrary to how the majority of acts operate, with one core group of individuals constant throughout the evolution of their music, Islands has had a remarkable total of 14 different band members contribute to the band at one point or another.
Nick Thorburn has been the musical brainchild tying Islands together. The songwriter, who still sometimes goes by his old nom de plume, Nick Diamonds, helped bring the original group together in 2005 in Montreal, QC, with Jamie Thompson, who contributed to the band from 2005-2006 and again from 2009-2010.
Instead of seeing the revolving door of musicians as a hindrance on Islands’ evolution, Thorburn welcomes the idea of an ever-changing roster of bandmates: “In the beginning, it helped the sound remain varied and different, which was something I always wanted Islands to be: I wanted it to be a varied, fluid thing and having different members in and out was a way of achieving different sounds.”
Their first album, Return to the Sea (2006), was a collaborative effort, featuring numerous guest appearances, including members of Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade. After playing small venues around the US and Canada, they nailed down an opening slot on Metric’s tour in 2006. Shortly after, they headlined their own tour and quickly found critical acclaim for the enthralling yet enigmatic energy they brought to their live shows. It has even been documented that they would sometimes end their shows with the band leading the audience out of the venue in a “pied piper style” to explore the surrounding streets as a musical mob.
In 2008, the band released their follow-up album, Arms Away, with a new core group of band members and an evolved sound. This pattern of new faces and building on their creativity continued for the rest of their albums: Vapours (2009), A Sleep and A Forgetting (2012) and Ski Mask (2013). Every album lights up with a kaleidoscope of different sounds and instrumentation, which was always Thorburn’s vision. “I like the idea of bouncing between genres of music and not being boxed in by one, specifically. It’s fun to explore and experiment with different instruments and sound structures.”
Although every album blossoms with some type of new sound, whether it be psychedelic, dancehall, calypso, or ‘60s, ’70s or ’80s pop, one focal point that has held true for Islands is a lyricism centred around heartbreak, loss and forgetting. The grief and longing that comes through in the lyrics of their tracks perfectly juxtaposes the buoyant, upbeat sound that the majority of their tracks showcase, creating the type of colourful imagery that only certain artists are able to achieve.
Ski Mask, released September 2013, is more stripped down, both emotionally and musically, compared to their previous albums, creating a sound reminiscent of Portugal. The Man. Donning sinister album art from a low-budget ‘80s horror film titled Ozone Attack of the Red Neck Mutant, the album kicks off with “Wave Forms,” which acts as a perfect bridge in response to their previous releases. This seamless transition from one album to the next is present throughout their vibrant discography and exemplifies how truly talented Thorburn and all of his bandmates are.
It is nothing short of impressive that throughout countess transitions with different band members, Islands has been able to hold true to creating electrifying music that flawlessly fits into their growing collection of recordings. The phrase, “Islands Are Forever,” has been attached to the band throughout their musical history and perfectly summarizes how fans hope to forever be enchanted by this memorable musical family and their unique island vibes.
Catch Islands at the Pyramid Cabaret (Winnipeg) on March 21, at Republik (Calgary) on March 25 and at the Starlite Room (Edmonton) on March 26.
By Kayla Beattie
Photo: Todd Weaver