Islands' New Album Explores the Band's Uncertain Future
The guy on the left actually looks like that
Even though Islands embrace the mantra "Islands are forever," front man Nick Thorburn admits there's a sense of urgency surrounding their recent album, Ski Mask. Despite the band's wide critical acclaim and recent commercial attention, they are at a crossroads with gaining a broader platform. Thorburn hopes that changes with the new EP. His lyrics drive a sound that leans more toward brain candy than indie rock, pirouetting in and out of surf, synth-pop and art rock.
The dizzying list of musical comparisons rouse a sense of pride in the lead singer; though he says they aren't necessarily creating something that's never been done before, he's certain their music builds on originality. "I'm not trying to make oldies music or noise or experimental music. I think that's a really contrived dead end," he says. "Islands have never tried to be genre-specific. We don't make it easy on ourselves. But at the end of the day, when I'm looking back on my work, I'd much rather be uncompromised vs. chasing a dollar."
If the album art is any indicator, conformist dollars were the last thing on the front man's agenda. Conceptualized by Thorburn, it depicts a disturbing yet visually engaging still from the 1988 B-film Ozone: Attack of the Red Neck Mutants. The photo of a mutated head is a wild first impression for the collection of songs. Considering Thorburn's lauded role in the British Columbian act the Unicorns, as well as a side project featuring Michael Cera on bass, it's no surprise he likes to keep things interesting.
Just less than two years after the release of their previous effort, A Sleep and a Forgetting, Islands put out a new album on Sept. 17. The quick turnaround between the two gave way to some of the darkest subject matter in the group's catalog. "Becoming the Gunship" offers a lush croon and a resonating chorus, and "Death Drive" toys with the Freudian theory of inevitable self-destruction. Sound deep? Ski Mask plunges further into the waters of Thorburn's musical psyche with the pivotal track "Of Corpse," on which the Canadian-born musician reaches a metaphorical turning point that echoes his entire attitude for the project.
"Initially, I was the victim, being robbed by someone in a ski mask wearing a pretty dress," he recalls. "But I decided to change the perspective of the narrator and become the assailant as opposed to the victim. I've been a victim for the past four albums, and now I've decided to become the criminal."
Aggressive language and curiously uplifting music counteract to reveal an all-encompassing sound that's both catchy and haunting. Thorburn's surge of empowerment arguably fuels his candidness regarding his state of mind. "I feel like I'm at a point where I don't think I can necessarily keep making music in a vacuum; I need the give and take," he says. "I'm working in the public, and I'm working with the listener. It's a mutual arrangement; I need the symbiosis. I feel like we are putting these songs out with a level of risk. There's something to lose. . . . I'm trying to make sure the music we make gets a fair shake."
Islands perform at the Constellation Room at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.constellationroom.com. Wed., 9 p.m. $12. All ages.
For more information on Islands, visit www.islandsareforever.com.