'Islomania' Is Islands' Danciest Album Yet, Even in the Bleak Moments

BY Paul BlinovPublished Jun 7, 2021

It's been almost two decades since Nick Thorburn closed the Unicorns' 2003 album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?, by singing, "I've said my goodbyes, and now I'm ready to die."

That band did pass shortly thereafter, but Thorburn's kept on going, dark humour intact. He's collaborated in various bands — Reefer, Mister Heavenly, Human Highway, solo as Nick Diamonds — scored movies (2017's Ingrid Goes West) and podcasts (Serial), and even published a graphic novel, Penguins. But most of all, he released a steady stream of indie-pop albums as the anchoring member of Islands — until 2016, when he quietly ended that band, presumably to focus on all those other things.

Five years later, he's returned to Islands for Islomania. It's the band's eighth album, reuniting Thorburn with bassist Evan Gordon, guitarist Geordie Gordon, and drummer Adam Halferty (with some extra contributions from Ratatat's Mike Stroud). Maybe it's the freedom to return out of inspiration rather than obligation, but the time away seems to have put a bounce in Thorburn's step: Islomania leans into its rhythms, while producers Chris Coady (Beach House, Future Islands) and Patrick Ford (Tanlines, !!!) help give it shape and scale. The result is the danciest version of Islands to date.

The lush, tropical longing of opener "Islomania" gives way to a pervasive pop groove in "(We Like To) Do It With the Lights On", one of the most unabashedly fun songs Thorburn has penned to date. "Carpenter" charges a simple, satisfying bassline through a series of what if scenarios, while "Natural Law Party" follows its low-end's lead as Thorburn offers: "I am just a melody / you set my body free".

The mood isn't always balmy: "A Passionate Age" packs lines like "Put my heart away / flow, flow my tears again" above its rhythm. Album highlight "Never Let You Down" 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. But even Islomania's bleaker moments kinda bounce, refracting their darker sentiments in compelling ways. And in that, Islomania proves a lively, welcome return.
(Royal Mountain Records)

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