Essential Listening: Indie Darlings, Islands! Purveyors of Fine Sonic Soundscapes and Cheerfully Macabre Pop/Rock Tunes!
Yesterday we went neo-glam with Spacehog (see that post here), today we are switching to the layered indie pop/rock band Islands. All month long I’m paying it forward to a variety of friends, bands, video games, and movies that I feel deserve a pat on the back and a signal boost. I’m always on the hunt for new bands and sounds to keep my ears satisfied. A decade ago, a friend of mine, Jesus Torres, turned me on to a lo-fi indie band named the Unicorns. They were the the fun punky/pop brain child of Nicholas Thorburn, Alden Penner, and Jamie Thompson. Unfortunately, I started listening to the Unicorns just as they broke up and sadly they had only cut 2 albums, so there wasn’t much material there to absorb. Fortunately, Thorburn and Thompson reformed as Islands and blew away my expectations. I had been expecting something similarly lo-fi punk/pop like the Unicorns, and what I got with Islands first album was a wonderfully lush mix of tropical sounds, unique instrumentation, and powerful pop melodies. Although they have not ever broken though with a chart topping mainstream single, Islands is a band (and a concept) that is exceptionally comfortable being the ever changing indie band that they are.
Who is Islands: Islands is an indie pop/rock band originally formed by Nicholas Thorburn and Jaime Thompson. Thompson left after the first album (although he returned again briefly for the third album), and since then Thorburn has been using Islands as a vehicle to explore new sounds and to create tremendously fantastic music. Over the years, many of the band members have changed, and with each change so does the overall sound of the band. Reinvention is the secret ingredient that Thorburn uses to keep the music fresh. Whereas Thorburn is the glue that keeps Islands together, it is the talented lot of musicians that he works with that help form the serene sounds that make up the breadth of the Islands catalog. It is not unusual to hear a variety of sounds on an Islands track, steel drums, violins, synthesizers, drum machines, and all manner of odd instruments accompany the standard band on many of the cuts. It all ties back in to reinvention and wanting to try new sounds and ways of recording. Since forming in 2005, Islands has recorded 7 albums, “Return To The Sea”, “Arm’s Way”, “Vapours”, “A Sleep and A Forgetting”, “Ski Mask”, “Should I Remain Here, At Sea?”, and “Taste”.
Why You Should Be Listening To Islands: The best reason to listen to islands is because each album is a unique treat that sounds different from the album that preceded it. Whereas the foundation for Islands is almost always found in Thorburn’s nuanced pop vocal performances, the songs themselves range style-wise from pop, rock, electronic, folk, glam, punk, and everywhere else in between. Seldom ever does a band get away with covering so many bases over a short span without sacrificing its fans, and yet Islands has been recording this way for 11 years without any push-back from their fan base. In many ways, those of us who already love the varying sound of Islands have come to expect the unexpected from the band. Another fun aspect to the Islands experience is the twist of phrase style lyrics which usually have dark imagery attached to them, all while being sung in crooningly happy pop style. It’s a strange mix, to be certain, but one that works exceptionally well as Thorburn has crafted this vocal and lyrical style to near perfection over the years. Another great live band, I highly recommend catching a show if the Islands come to a venue near you.
What’s Islands Been Up To Recently: In 2013, Islands released their fifth album, “Ski Mask”. A paired down album that merges pop/rock with calypso sounds and rhythms, “Ski Mask” has a bit of an attitude. Covering a range of emotions, this album has clever lyrics, and a well crafted guitar based sound.
This year Islands released 2 albums simultaneously on May 13th, “Should I Remain Here, At Sea?” and “Taste”. “Should I Remain Here, At Sea?” is a spiritual successor to their first album, “Return to the Sea”. it features a loose return to the style and sound that they first pioneered in 2005. “Taste”, offers a proper contrast by presenting a selection of songs that embraces an electronic/programmed sound. The new albums are perfect bookend pieces that give the listener the best of both worlds which rewards you more with each repeat listening. Similar to listening to music by Wilco, there is always more going on in an Islands song than can be ascertained upon a single listening. This is doubly true with these newer offerings.
How You Can Support The Band: Buy their albums! The entire Islands catalog is available on CD and digital at various retailers, both brick and mortar and online. You can also listen to their music via Spotify and Apple Music. On top of that, you can head to their official website, islandsareforever.com, for more information about their music, tour dates, bios, merchandise, music videos, and more. Islands can also be followed on these social media outlets: twitter, facebook, and instagram.
Nicholas Thorburn made his directorial debut in 2015 with the short film “That Dog”. Here’s the official description: “Michael Cera and Tim Heidecker star in this wickedly acerbic yarn about three people in an L.A. apartment complex who have made social awkwardness and crass insensitivity into an art form.” You can watch “That Dog” at this link.Finally, I leave you with a music video for the Islands song, Creeper. This is a lovely, catchy little tune about paranoia and dying. Makes it on my Halloween Playlist. Every. Year. Without. Fail.