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June Garber

Islands

Islands of Darkness, Islands of Light

Nick Thorburn and Islands range across time and place and light and dark with Ski Mask.

By Kat Dornian

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Hot on the heels of 2012’s A Sleep And A Forgetting, it’s no small wonder to see what Islands' head-honcho Nick Thornburn calls “one of [the] more complex records [they]’ve made” come out so quickly. With the help of band mates Evan and Geordie Gordon, The songs on this record all come from a different place who’ve been in Islands since 2009 and also make up the Toronto band The Magic, they were able to quickly arrange, record and realize an album with songs reaching back across time and place.

“The songs on this record all come from a different place,” says Nick. “Some of the songs I’ve lived with for years so it’s all over the place. It’s not like they’re all of the same cause.” The album starts with rhythmically cheerful songs like “Nil” and “Wave Forms”, which is followed by one of the most Unicorns-sounding songs called “Death Drive” that features playfully spooky synthesizer-work. But, as the second half of the album approaches, songs like “Of Corpse” and “Here Here” bring a more thoughtful, heavy, dark and quiet tone.

Nick agrees, “I think side B, the whole second half of the record, gets really good” and points to the “dark horse” titled “Here Here”, as his own favourite. The 7-Up Series, a British documentary that catches up with the lives of fourteen people in seven-year increments, inspired the song. It’s one of the slowest songs on the album and is informed by one of the stories in The 7-Up Series where the person suffers from a heartbreaking depression.

Islands have always had this facet of darkness. Right from “Volcanoes (Life After Death)” (the first song on Return to the Sea, 2005) through to now, there have been songs dealing with the darker side of life. Even Nick’s other work has had an element of death and doom in it - from his first songs with The Unicorns, to weird Hawaiian-inspired side projects like Reefer and still to this day with the new Islands record Ski Mask. Where does this come from? “It’s a very deep well from which I can draw from.” Nick answers. “It’s a terrifying idea and that’s pretty exciting that something so terrifying can really bring out the best in you, creatively.”

Ski Mask certainly shows off that creativity, as well as diversity. Each song has it’s own feel and flavour. Much like Nick, the songs are cheerful and underneath there’s that well from which he draws, displaying a more interesting side and framing the thoughtful way he looks at the darker things.

Nick’s also been busy working on other projects. In 2010, he formed a group with Ryan Kattner from Man Man and Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse, called Mister Heavenly. Working with other songwriters provided him “a lot of context to everything that [he’s] doing and definitely gives a fresh perspective on songwriting. Listening to someone else play a song and how another song can be written is really rewarding.”

So, what’s next for Nick Thorburn? While he still calls Canada his home, last year he committed to living in Los Angeles where he can work more on the things he’s trying to do.

He also mentions a new project with hip-hop recording artist El-P, whom he met while living in New York. They’re in the early stages of working on a new record that will merge El-P’s production and Nick’s singing that will “be informed by hip hop but it won’t be, explicitly … hop hop” per se (Nick promises he won’t be rapping).

And no worries for fans, Nick still believes in the mantra that Islands are Forever and “sees no end in sight” for the project. With five albums under the name and a solid line up of musicians, there’s no reason to stop a good thing.

For now, Ski Mask comes out on September 17th along with a series of tour dates across North America with mates Bear Mountain (Vancouver - Read our interview with them this month) and Brazos (Austin). Canadians can check out Islands playing Vancouver’s The Media Club on September 21st and back-to-back gigs in Montreal and Toronto, respectively, on October 9th (Il Motore) and 10th (The Garrison).

Find more Islands tour dates here. For everyone else, here’s a video of Nick playing one of the new songs, “Shotgun Visions” in New Hope Upholstery:

 
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