Islands – A Sleep & a Forgetting

written by: February 16, 2012
Release Date: February 14th, 2012


Since 2006, Quebec-based Islands have released four albums with a fine-lined thematic separation between each one of them. This year, they released A Sleep & a Forgetting on Valentine’s day, which was the same day front man Nick Thorburn began writing it. A tale of love, loss and recovery, A Sleep & a Forgetting is drenched in gloom and intimate vocal arrangements. Thorburn bears his soul in this record and while it is quite the change from “Vapours” in 2009, the catchy pop-induced riffs and art rock textures are still there.

Recorded and produced in two weeks, A Sleep & a Forgetting showcases the raw power that Islands is capable of. In conjunction with fellow member Evan Gordon, this album was finished with minimal over dubbing or production. This album is just the barebones. It feels almost intrusive to listen to it. Somber instrumentals are in the quiet backdrop of Thorburn’s vocals, but it isn’t until the near-end of the album that redemption seems to settle in.

After moving away because of a break-up, Thorburn ended up with a piano handy and a tale to tell. In “Never Go Solo,” the piano comes out in a furious pop rage. Pulsating keys and shattering drums take the listener into the angry stage of grief. Although this song is less overt than others on the album, it’s still evident that Thorburn’s pain overtook the writing process. His cathartic lyricism is brutally honest throughout this album, but the instruments hold to a higher meaning in this song. The scattered bats of fury dwindle like a sugar crash and eventually calm into a doo-wop throwback reminiscent of a 1950s ballad in “No Crying.”

Hoping to capture the essence of soul music, and succeeding, Thorburn dabbled in R&B and ‘50s pop to create a romantic allusion. While adding multiple string instruments as key element accompanied by swaying melodies and harmonized vocals, he finds a way to renovate the simplistic guitar licks and dreamy prom date tunes.

Heading back in to modernized pop, “Can’t Feel My Face” is a song of uptempo melodies and opposing lyrics – “I miss my wife. I miss my best friend, every night. I miss my home. I miss my own bed and my old life.” It’s a song that encourages toe tapping and sing-a-longs, but the repeating lyrics are quickly learned and soon the song gets more depressing. Nothing is masked. Nothing is coated with beauty. Thorburn completely lets loose in this track, saying exactly what he wants and inevitably begins to heal.

It wouldn’t be an Islands album without an epic track, and “Same Thing” fills those shoes with an echoing triumph. Like the black and gray rose on the album cover, this track is layered with darkness. It’s hauntingly beautiful and will remain a break-up staple to music nerds for years to come.

This album may take a few listens to settle comfortably, and it’s not all sad. It’s an acquired taste coming from songs like “When there’s a will. There’s a whalebone” and “Switched On” from previous releases, but the woven emotion will soon grab on tight and never let go. So, embrace it. A Sleep & a Forgetting ends with “Grey Funnel Line.” Besides a few elongated, droning keys, this track is a platform for Thorburn’s story. He hasn’t reached the end of his emotional battle yet, but he sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

Islands – A Sleep & a Forgetting tracklist:

  1. “In a Dream It Seemed Real”
  2. “This Is Not a Song”
  3. “Never Go Solo”
  4. “No Crying”
  5. “Hallways”
  6. “Can’t Feel My Face”
  7. “Lonely Love”
  8. “Oh Maria”
  9. “Cold Again”
  10. “Don’t I Love You”
  11. “Same Thing”
  12. “Swallows”
  13. “Comes to Light”
  14. “Grey Funnel Line”