A Sleep & A Forgetting, the fourth album from Nicholas Thorburn’s most successful outfit Islands, finds the band conquering new territories and offering a previously unexplored level of maturity and first-person storytelling to their songwriting. Not only is Islands’ latest album rather bleak, but it is also the most personal.
Typically known for releasing quirky pop, A Sleep & A Forgetting is anything but. Fittingly set for release on Valentine’s Day, Thorburn said that the album came about after a break up and transition period for himself where he moved from New York to L.A.. Everything from the gloomy artwork to the lyrics cry heartbreak. And while Islands venture into new areas of songwriting, they do so superfluously, reinforcing the fact that it would be a challenging effort for these guys to release an album that is subpar.
On opening track “In A Dream (It Seemed Real),” smooth, jazz-like snappy percussion accompanies twinkling keys on the piano with Thorburn digressing on how even in his dreams he cried, offering a template of emotions for what’s likely to come. But while the majority of the album does in fact deal with heartbreak, the tone of the album, sonically speaking, isn’t terribly overwhelming or completely downtrodden.
“This Is Not A Song” opens with a bluesy guitar riff and a piano that follows, coming off more like a Ryan Adams song rather than the playful nature of tracks found on an album like Arm’s Way. “Never Go Solo” features a repetitively catchy piano progression that builds each verse to an aggressive chorus of rapid and momentary instrumental outbreaks.
Other than the surprising change in direction, what’s most impressive about A Sleep & A Forgetting is Thorburn’s clever way of acknowledging the band’s existence and body of work – almost similar to how certain filmmakers break the fourth wall – particularly on said songs “This Is Not A Song” and “Never Go Solo.” Thorburn, like many musicians alike, uses this album as a coping mechanism, while thankfully not leaving his dark humor too far aside.
Yet at the same time, while A Sleep & A Forgetting is a bold new statement for the band, the album occasionally treads on the mundane level, due to its similarly-orchestrated tracks. By the eighth or ninth song, we’ve already gotten the point, and the dismal and lazily strummed acoustic burner “Oh Maria” ends up falling a bit flat. Thankfully, album closer “Same Thing” – a hypnotizing and haunting cut that entrances its listener – brings A Sleep & A Forgetting to a close on a terrifically strong number. It’s not Thorburn reaching the level of acceptance from a failed romance that is eventually conquered as time passes, it’s Thorburn still wallowing in all of his misery, claiming that he “will never love again.”
A Sleep & A Forgetting is clearly a heavy listen, posing as the quintessential winter album. Here’s to hoping to find the band in higher spirits the next time around.