14
Feb
2012
Islands: A Sleep & A Forgetting
A Sleep and A Forgetting
Darren
Islands - A Sleep & A Forgetting

Bottom Line: A mopey album that occasionally contains the pep that makes Islands enjoyable

A Sleep and A Forgetting

Alright, look at this album cover. Yes, it's a black rose. Now look at the release date. February 14 - Valentine's Day. Know that the singer was inspired to write it after a breakup. You know what you're in for now.

The first two Islands albums, Return to the Sea and Arm's Way, were fairly similar. Both were generally described as indie pop, had a good amount of really catchy tracks, and occasionally featured a dynamic range of instruments including violins, synthesizer, and steel drum. The band's third album Vapours was a bit more toned down and was noticeably more electronic with drum loops and auto-tuning on some tracks. Now, A Sleep & A Forgetting tones things down even further, resulting in what is a simple, sincere, and ultimately dreary record.

The album opens with "In A Dream It Seemed Real," which contains Islands' trademark guitar sound and front man Nick Thorburn's distinctive voice, yet it is already more subdued than anything the band has released previously. It doesn't set the bar high for the album's energy, which is good because if it did, you'd be disappointed. Following is the single "This Is Not A Song," which is a mellow piano-driven piece somewhat reminiscent of Coldplay. Although some may be turned off by this description and such uplifting lyrics as "If Penny roams away I will have lost everything; in many subtle ways I already don't have anything," I actually kind of like the song (that apparently is not a song). Things pick up a bit on track three, "Never Go Solo," which has a dramatic piano part that makes it sound like the theme of an antagonist from an Andrew Llyod Webber musical (this review got gay fast, especially after Coldplay). After the lull that is "No Crying," things really step up for "Hallways," easily the most energetic and lively track on the album. It's pounding piano chords are matched by a piano melody that makes one imagine Thorburn drunkenly standing up and playing it at a bar as he tries to wow the crowd egging him on. "Can't Feel My Face" is just as energetic, though still lyrically bleak ("I miss my wife. I miss my best friend every night."), and its distinctive synthesizer is probably the height of the album's dynamic instrumentation.

The next five tracks I won't go into on a one by one basis, because at this point, the album really kind of tapers off. The second half of the album is just not terribly memorable, and I frequently forget that I have music on when I listen to it. The tracks blend together, and are all fairly subdued with even more dismal lyrics ("I loved a girl and will never love again" on "Same Thing" for instance). I'm not saying there's anything wrong with wanting to make slow and heartfelt songs, but the first half of the album just makes this ending sequence seem fairly boring by comparison.

I'll avoid making the easy joke that A Sleep & A Forgetting put me to sleep and then I forgot about it. Okay I didn't really avoid it. But it's not really true, since the album's solid songs redeem the remaining ones quite a bit. I'm not saying that Islands should be restricted from trying new things or "maturing" as a band (seriously I feel like I will see that word on 90% of reviews about this album), as the first half of the album shows that the band can make good upbeat songs with sad lyrics and even throw down a good wholly somber tune. But the larger part of me hopes that they keep most of A Sleep & A Forgetting's sound confined to just this album and whip out the violins and steel drums again in the future.
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Grade: B-


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