No Man is an Island

Islands bring their fourth and most personal album yet to 7th Street Entry

On the recently released A Sleep and a Forgetting, Nick Thorburn (middle) turns romantic woe into gentle pop.

Photo Courtesy Anti- Records

On the recently released “A Sleep and a Forgetting,” Nick Thorburn (middle) turns romantic woe into gentle pop.

by Griffin Fillipitch


What: Islands

When: 10:30 p.m. Friday

Where: 7th Street Entry, 701 First Ave.

Cost: $12

Ages: 18+

Wordsworth wrote “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” in his classic poem “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” That line inspired the title of the new album from the Montreal-bred art-rock band Islands.

“I kind of jacked it and re-appropriated it, but I really like the evocative nature of that line” Islands’ frontman Nick Thorburn said.

Thorburn may not have had Wordsworth’s original meaning in mind, but Islands’ fourth studio album, “A Sleep and a Forgetting” is a birth — or a rebirth. It finds Thorburn traversing more personal and intimate territory than ever before. Its history may indicate otherwise, but “A Sleep and a Forgetting” is a break-up album through and through.

“We started recording on Valentine’s Day [of 2011]. That was the day the studio became available, which seemed like a funny coincidence,” Thorburn said. “Then the release date was going to be in January, but then it got pushed back, and Valentine’s Day fell on a Tuesday this year, so that ended up being the day. It was technically a coincidence, but I don’t think it was just a coincidence. It was too darkly ironic and funny.”

Thorburn didn’t set out to make an album of ballads for the Valentine’s Day-hater, though. The intimacy and sadness in the songs was natural and circumstantial.

“It came on the heels of a transitional phase in my life,” Thorburn said. “I was in a relationship in New York which ended rather abruptly, so I made my way to Los Angeles. I didn’t have a place to stay. I wasn’t really living anywhere. After a few months of being sort of discombobulated, I sat down and wrote the songs at the piano.”

But the personal elements of the music aren’t just in the lyrics.

“Musically, it’s really stark. We just wanted to keep things very minimal,” Thorburn said. “The production technique was pretty spontaneous. It was really a matter of being well rehearsed, knowing what we were going to do and then making decisions rapidly while recording and sticking to them. In that sense, it was personal because it is an incredibly direct-sounding record.”

Anyone familiar with Islands’ previous albums of ambitious, grandiose pop should notice the difference immediately. The songs on “A Sleep and a Forgetting” are familiar and infectious, with an equally soft lyrical sadness pervading them. Overall, it is the best written and most fully realized Islands album to date. Thorburn and the rest of Islands will bring these songs to the 7th Street Entry on Friday.

It’s interesting to see Thorburn settle into a project so completely, since he always seems to be working on something new. In addition to Islands, Thorburn has fronted bands like the Unicorns, Mister Heavenly, Reefer, Th’ Corn Gangg and Human Highway.

“On some level, it comes from an inability to say ‘no’ to people,” Thorburn said. “If someone asks me to collaborate with them on a project, and I like that person and their music, I don’t see why not. I like to be eager to collaborate with people. It’s enriching as a musician and just as a person.”

The list of side projects also includes a solo album released last year, under the stage name Nick Diamonds. Thorburn has used the alias often in the past, but left it out of this most recent endeavor.

“It was a choice. I feel conflicted about the alias,” Thorburn said. “I like the idea. I like the kind of David Bowie, Bob Dylan sort of fantastical identity and character. I tried it on, but this is definitely the sort of record where I’m not hiding behind any kind of cloak or device.”