Vooruit - Gent (be) + The Go Find
Botanique - Brussels (be)
Bitterzoet - Amsterdam (nl)
On the first track from ISLANDS’ new album—the winsome, tropicalia-inflected ‘Wave Forms’ – front man, Nick Thorburn opens the record by singing, “I won’t ride another wave and I won’t write another word after today.” In light of the rest of the album, the statement is both an admonition and a kind of warning. Ski Mask, the band’s fifth album, is equal parts beauty and venom—an album that percolates with the kind of polymorphous pop and hooky, left-of-center rock songs that have long been the band’s stock and trade. This time around, however, the artful indie-pop comes with a decidedly melancholy punch.
“This record is really about being angry,” says Thorburn. “For better or worse, this record kind of sums up my experience thus far with being in a band. I feel like we’re kind of at a crossroads and this record is kind of me just declaring forfeiture in some ways. Like the third act of a movie—just after it seems like all hope is lost, that’s when the big breakthrough moment happens. For ISLANDS, this is us waiting for the breakthrough moment.”
If Ski Mask is both a personal statement about what it means to be in a band – as well as a statement about the mercurial nature of the music business itself – then it’s certainly well earned. Thorburn, along with a rotating cast of bandmates, has been working under the moniker of ISLANDS for nearly a decade. Formed in 2005 after the dissolution of Thorburn’s previous (and much beloved) band The Unicorns, ISLANDS quickly established themselves as one of the most erudite and forward-thinking pop bands ever to emerge from the Montreal rock scene. Over the course of four albums Thorburn and co. showed off a remarkably chameleonic ability to bend a variety of different musical styles to their will. It’s a talent that that historically made each ISLANDS record its own very singular listening experience. It’s also a defining quality that made Islands difficult to pin down and nearly impossible to neatly classify (which, one expects, has always been the band’s goal).
Ski Mask, while arguably the most sonically diverse album Islands has ever made also plays out like Thorburn’s personal frustrations writ large. Songs like “Death Drive” “Nil” and “Of Corpse” balance beautiful melodies against some of the darkest lyrical missives that Thorburn has ever written. When he sings, “Are you impressed with how depressed I’ve become?” it’s hard not to register the sting. Still, Thorburn – along with current bandmates Evan Gordon, Geordie Gordon, and Luc Laurent – can’t seem to help but make beautiful music, which serves as a nice counterbalance to the record’s heavier concerns. Ski Mask offers beauty and bleakness in mostly equal measure. If the record proves to be Islands’ swan song—a possibility Thorburn doesn’t dispute—it certainly makes for a compelling one.
For Thorburn and his bandmates, the release of Ski Mask is something akin to throwing down the gauntlet. It’s also the first (and one hopes, not the last) album to be released on the band’s own Manqué label.