Islands - Wave Forms | Track Review | By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret


Wave Form

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Author: on July 17, 2013

Nick Thorburn has his Kübler-Ross stages mixed up – Ski Mask, the upcoming fifth album by Islands, is, according to its ubiquitous frontman, “really about being angry” and “kind of sums up my experience with being in a band” (thanks Pitchfork). Well, so much for being diplomatic at the next band meeting. After last year’s A Sleep & A Forgetting — a desolate portrait of a heart so crushed it was difficult to see any hope of a return — bleak and unrelenting as the music there was, you’d expect Thorburn to be saddling past “depression” and into “acceptance.” Yet perhaps A Sleep & A Forgetting was just the veil being lifted, the kind of transformative experience that allowed Thorburn to see clearly. And he doesn’t like what he sees.

Rough morning

Rough morning

A cursory listen to first single “Wave Forms” might have one thinking otherwise. It’s bouncy and beautiful, the kind of effortlessly hooky piano ditty that Thorburn has been churning out with remarkable consistency since his time in seminal indie band the Unicorns. But there’s always been a streak of darkness in his work – A Sleep & A Forgetting was almost too unvarnished in its approach, to the point of alienating many of his regular, non-depressive listeners. “Wave Forms” is more Islands’ style, disguising the lyrics with tropical-flavored xylophones and allegorical references to the past, in this case a reference to Return to the Sea and band mates past and present under the thin metaphor of a tired vacation.

The wistfulness is apparent and the enmity is not too far gone, either, even in a song so sonically bright: “I won’t write another word after today”, Thorburn sings, and even after A Sleep & A Forgetting, it’s impressive how you want to believe it. Perhaps the truest indicator of Ski Mask’s intentions comes in that hilariously obtuse album cover, one my girlfriend noted looked “like a cross between Chewbacca and Swamp Thing”. The title is emblazoned in Vice City neon and the unfortunate creature is sticking its tongue out at the viewer with an expression of childlike glee, but calling it sickly and disgusting would be an understatement. It’s signature Islands, playful on the surface and never giving away too much, yet with undercurrents that run far deeper than they initially appear. With a song like “Wave Forms”, Islands makes me want to believe that, finally, Ski Mask may be the“breakthrough moment” that Thorburn has been chasing since “Rough Gem” blew up the blogs what seems like forever ago.


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