Staying true to their tropical name
In the five years since Canada-based indie-pop band Islands has released an album, lead singer Nicholas Thorburn has kept himself busy. After the release of their sixth and seventh albums, Should I Remain Here, At Sea? and Taste, respectively, Thorburn has created his own solo project, Nick Diamonds, scored movies like the 2017 film Ingrid Goes West and even wrote a graphic novel. Now, Islands has returned with their latest LP, Islomania, providing a change of pace from their usual work into something fun, fresh and invigorating.
The album opens with the title track, “Islomania,” a song that can be best described as the first steps into a tropical oasis. The bongos and island-style synthesizers give way to “(We Like To) Do It With The Lights On,” the band’s comeback single and one of the group’s grooviest tracks to date. With a jazzy bass riff and a simple, catchy chorus (“We dance to the song on and on/ We do it with the lights on), Thorburn’s vocal range is able to shine through, adding a memorable and oddly soothing quality to the rest of an otherwise danceable song.
Lyrically, the band is not afraid to get contemplative; themes of “what-if” scenarios charge through a satisfying bassline and memorable guitar riffs in “Carpenter,” while in “Closed Captioning,” Thorburn mulls over “What will become of you/ What will become of me” through a saxophone solo that could have come from well-known saxophonist Kenny G’s playbook. However, with every album’s strengths comes its weaknesses, and Islomania is no exception to this. In some tracks, like “Closed Captioning” and “Marble,” the instrumentals fall short in expectation compared to its lyrics and overpower the songs in a way that makes everything sound muddled together and prevents Thorburn’s vocal abilities from standing out.
Despite these setbacks, tracks like “A Passionate Age” and “Natural Law Party” make up for what other songs on this record lack. In “Natural Law Party,” a groovy bassline and saxophone riff shine as Thorburn sings sultry lyrics like, “Chemically I feel it move ahead of me/ Like I am just a melody/ You set my body free,” while in “A Passionate Age,” Thorburn’s high notes as he ruminates through heartbreak (“Put my heart away/ Flow, flow my tears again”) shows not only his vocal range but also his emotional range.
The standout track in Islomania is “Never Let You Down,” both instrumentally and lyrically. Here, Thorburn cycles through doubts (“I was wrong to darken your door/ Do I belong in these open arms anymore?”) and reassurances (“When it feels like the dream’s over/ I will move closer”) with cinematic urgency through layered harmonies and easy-to-follow synthesizer melodies.
Overall, it is no surprise that in what is expected to be a triumphant return for Islands, there are some dull moments within Islomania. Despite this, even the bleaker moments bounce, refracting their darker sentiments in compelling ways. And in those moments, Islomania proves to be a buoyant, welcome return.