Posted by: Jeff | March 14, 2012

Album Review: Islands – “A Sleep And A Forgetting”

Islands – A Sleep & A Forgetting [Buy Here]

ANTI-
Release Date: February 2012
Grade: B

 Islands – “This Is Not A Song”

Islands has flirted with a lot of different styles over the course of their six-year existence, ranging from jangly garage pop to more regrettable experimentations with auto-tune and even rap.  On this, the band’s fourth full-length, the band strips away those flourishes and abandons the trend-following, offering instead an album of soul-baring singer-songwriter fare.

From the opening lines of album opener “In A Dream It Seemed Real”, frontman Nick Thorburn establishes the album as a contemplative reaction to loss and drifting, pleading “open up your door for me / and let me in / oh, can’t you see / how cold I am?”  It’s a fitting start to an album fixed consistently on one theme (the song titles are something of a roadmap here – “Never Go Solo”, “No Crying”, “Can’t Feel My Face”, “Lonely Love”, “Cold Again”).  Song-writing is the focal point, and lyrically it is one of the strongest efforts under the Islands moniker (Thorburn previously fronted the widely-acclaimed The Unicorns).

The spare, understated arrangements lend a retro 1950s vibe to the whole record.  Most tracks feature piano as the predominant instrumentation, and the organ backdrop behind “This Is Not A Song” lends Thorburn’s vocal performance added pathos.  The lyrics are forthright and honest, and crying is hardly a taboo subject (on “In A Dream” he opines that “even in a dream I cried / I’m the giveaway / I could never hide / all the sadness inside”).

It would be easy to write ‘A Sleep And A Forgetting’ off as another mope-rock record from a spurned singer-songwriter, but the honesty of Thorburn’s lyrics are never weighed down by hyperbole or bad metaphors.  It’s straight-forward, solid writing throughout, and the understated production never pushes the material over the top.

That’s not to say that ‘A Sleep’ is all ballads, however.  “Not A Song” has moments of catharsis and builds toward a fun breezy jaunt at the end (wrapped, of course, in lyrical nostalgia).   “No Crying” is retro pop-rock amble, with a light bluesy guitar over the soft shuffle of high-hat work.  “Can’t Feel My Face” re-introduces some of the synth work familiar from Islands’ breakthrough debut, and Thorburn’s vocal delivery is bluesy enough to sound like a Black Keys homage.  It’s a fun romp of a track, but sadly the only such moment on the record, as “Lonely Love” brings the fun back down to the ground.

Overall, ‘A Sleep And A Forgetting’ is an intimate, heartfelt album, and one that features very strong song-writing and mature instrumentation.  The second half of the record tends to be less memorable than the first, with “Can’t Feel My Face” functioning as a somewhat awkward pivot, being the only true up-tempo track on the album.  Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable LP, and the most well-developed offering yet from Islands.

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