CD Review: Islands, A Sleep & A Forgetting

Islands has always been a band on the periphery of my musical interests. I gave earlier albums Arms Way and Vapours a listen, but was unable to connect. The music was sporadic, unexpectedly beautiful, but also impossibly strange, I didn’t feel like I could connect or keep up. Islands was just too hip and I obviously wasn’t cool enough to understand (often a problem with indie music). Frontman Nicholas Thorburn’s voice is hauntingly beautiful, but the music was always just a little bit too much.

On Feb. 14, Islands released their fourth album A Sleep & A Forgetting, and much to my surprise, there was something very different going on.

A Sleep & A Forgetting is obviously a break-up album — which makes its release date an enjoyable joke. Hints of loneliness and a naked sorrow speckle the album’s lyrics: “I could never hide all the sadness inside,” is a line that appears in the track “In a Dream it Seemed Real,” while the blatant confession “I miss my wife/I miss my best friend” is a particularly obvious example of grief in the song, “Can’t Feel My Face.”

Doomed romance can often make for beautiful songwriting, this album is definitely listenable. The music is simple and smooth, whisking you out of one song and into the next with a simple grace. This is the type of album that you can listen to the entire way through without skipping a song — something I have never been able to do with an Islands album before. The lyrics are simple and plainly stated. This is not an album of complex metaphorical poetry — in fact, there is not one line that made my heart skip, not one verse that made me smile at how beautiful the sentiment was. This album is upfront about its message. It is simply crafted.

The music follows a similar track as the lyrics. Piano and guitar rock gently behind Thorburn’s voice. There is the occasional appearance of an organ, but otherwise, there’s nothing exciting, nothing over-the-top, nothing that dares to be greater, or crazier, or better. Islands has definitely departed from their earlier albums in this regard.

A Sleep and A Forgetting is tame. The lyrics are simple, but are also brave and naked, without any flourish to hide behind. The guitar is soothing and there are a couple of tracks that make me want to dance. Considering the music that came before A Sleep & A Forgetting, this is a courageous move.

A Sleep and A Forgetting is good. Just good. Not great. Very easy to enjoy, but at the same time easy to forget.

Three stars out of five