Islands experienced a burst of fame in the mid-2000s with their debut album, Return to the Sea. The band was born out of the ashes of The Unicorns, who released the fantastic Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? before disbanding in 2004. The Unicorns had shown lots of promise, so it was welcome news when band mates Nicholas Thorburn (aka Nick Diamonds) and Jamie Thompson (aka J’aime Tambeur) went on to form Islands in 2005.
While it lacked the fun bickering between Thorburn and Penner that made Who Will Cut Our Hair so amusing, Return to the Sea proved that Islands had lost little of the Unicorns’ appeal. Members of Wolf Parade and Arcade Fire made guest appearances, and the album earned a Best New Music stamp from the notoriously finicky reviewers at Pitchfork. The Unicorns were dead — long live Islands.
That’s why it was sad to see Islands release their fourth album, A Sleep and a Forgetting, to virtually nonexistent fanfare last month. The band’s previous two albums, Arm’s Way and Vapours, were both solid records that were nonetheless met with decreasing excitement, and it’s possible that Thorburn’s most recent side project, Mister Heavenly, also stole some of his main band’s thunder.
Those diminishing returns could be why A Sleep and a Forgetting feels so restrained. The album has an intimate, recorded-in-the-bedroom vibe that suits the introspection of tracks like “No Crying” and “Oh Maria.” The playfulness of Thorburn’s earlier work is still present, but seems content to lurk in the background. A Sleep might not be flashy, but its brisk arrangements and revealing lyrics make it as fascinating as any of Islands’ other albums.