Thursday, March 1, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Islands - A Sleep & A Forgetting

by Mark Gillis

It seems like whenever Islands get mentioned , The Unicorns have to be mentioned as well. It has been well-publicized that Nick Thorburn, the leader of the beloved Montreal pop outfit The Unicorns, went on to form Islands after The Unicorns broke up in late 2004. A Sleep & A Forgetting is the fourth studio album from Islands. With each passing album that Islands releases, I start to wonder more and more if The Unicorns should get mentioned in the same place as Islands. I know that Nick Thorburn fronted The Unicorns, but he has managed to evolve past the quirky pop songs that he used to make, and I think that A Sleep & A Forgetting shows just how much he has evolved.

To put it bluntly, this is a break-up album. That really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise upon reading all of the song titles. When you see tracks with names like “Never Go Solo”, “Lonely Love” and “Don’t I Love You”, it should set off alarm bells that this album has something to do with love. Now, this isn’t the first or the last time that an album will be about heartbreak, and there is a good reason for that. It’s a very relatable subject. Just about every person has been through some kind of relationship problem, so I can see this album appealing to just about anybody solely because of the emotions that it presents.

Musically, this album is a real departure from anything that I’ve heard from Nick Thorburn in the past. A Sleep & A Forgetting is a lot more subdued and toned down than previous Islands albums. There are a couple of upbeat tracks like “Never Go Solo” and “Hallways”, but for the most part this album is a fairly laid back affair. Nick plays some really swanky piano on a lot of these tracks, which is something that we haven’t heard much of before from him. It makes a lot of these songs come off silkily smooth.

Without a doubt this is the most bare I’ve ever heard Nick on an album, especially on songs like “Oh Maria” and extremely dark “Same Thing”. It really feels like Nick is being the most honest that I’ve ever heard him. Although some of these sounds could risk being a little bit cheesy with lines like “I loved a girl / I’ll never love again”, I think that because of how well these songs are presented, emotions like those feel real. With a lot of bands, love songs just come off feeling fake and manufactured, but Nick hits the nail on the head with most of these tunes.

A Sleep & A Forgetting shows just how much Nick has evolved as an artist. He’s become a bit of a musical chameleon throughout his career by always jumping between styles on different albums. It’s become clear to me that he isn’t the same guy who fronted The Unicorns anymore, and this album is a lot more mature than what he would have put out back then. Whether or not he has changed for the better is up to interpretation, but I can always respect when a musician likes to explore new ground. Being stagnant can become boring for the listener, and more importantly, boring for the musician.

You can follow me on Twitter @Mark__Gillis

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