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Islands - A Sleep & A Forgetting

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Artist: Islands

Album: A Sleep & A Forgetting

Label: Anti-

Review date: Feb. 13, 2012

When words like “introspective” and “emotional” get peppered into press releases and online promotion, it seems like marketing speak for “You know that band that was fun and that wrote really catchy songs? Well, the lead songwriter’s in his head now and thinks he has to write something ‘important,’ so…enjoy this…thing.”

Who knows why the turn inward has to somehow negate what was once previously fun in the artist, though every musician, comedian, and performer that’s not doing something classified as canonically “important” by high culture usually feels a twinge at some point of “What am I doing?” Sometimes they follow that thread out and become boring (Steve Martin). Maybe Island’s Nick Thorburn thought to himself, “I’m 30, and I write pop songs about blood diamonds. What’s wrong with me?”

Of course, it may just be a function of what’s rattling around the zeitgeist. On the Anti- website, Thorburn mentions, “The sound is really my interpretation of soul music.” White indie rock kids have been cannibalizing R&B and soul for a couple years, with the nadir coming late last year in the form of Brooklyn blog band Friends’ cover of “My Boo.” This isn’t to say that people can’t or aren’t allowed to be influenced by music across race and class lines, but that when you see a woman talk about how deep R&B is as she adjusts her $300 vintage blouse from some shop on N.10th and Bedford, you have to take the entire enterprise with a supercilious brow.

Whether it’s in the air or a product of Thorburn’s own anxieties, A Sleep & A Forgetting is different from his previous efforts. Less straightforwardly poppy, more lyrically lovey, an obvious nod to Paul Simon or two – it’s not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination. But it also feels (not necessarily is) like someone forcing a turn in their art instead of allowing it to naturally come out of them. For anyone that creates anything, you know what it’s like to say, “I want to write/make a piece like [insert whomever is influencing you at the moment].” So you make something like that and it may be good or bad, but even if it is good, there’s that slight feel of too much turn on the steering wheel, a little extra inertia shoving things along.

Despite these criticisms, it is an Islands album, and even if it’s less fun than past LPs, it’s still fun on a visceral level. It’s a weird mix — analytically, I feel lukewarm, but the songs get in my mind and whirl around, and I find myself randomly humming a song apropos of nothing. Does that make it good or bad? Goodish? While not overtly poppy, it’s still catchy and enjoyable, and while introspective lyrics may run up against the trite, they never descend to the depths of uncreative pabulum. Perhaps “introspective” is just code for “getting older” or “less manic.”

By Andrew Beckerman

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