With his indie-rock side project Mister Heavenly, Nick Thorburn crafted a quirky new genre called “doom-wop” – a tasty mish-mash of classic pop and demented art-rock. On A Sleep & A Forgetting, his first album in three years as Islands, Thorburn delivers dreamy songs stuffed with “ooh-ahh” harmonies, lovelorn lyrics and oceanic guitars that wash over like waves on sand. It’s less doom-wop, more doo-wop.
Island’s acclaimed 2006 debut, Return to the Sea, was a glacial slice of orchestral indie-rock; since then, the band (and its ever-evolving line-up) has moved – often jarringly – from proggy excess to minimalistic electro-pop. So it’s no surprise that, on A Sleep & A Forgetting, Thorburn has once again overhauled his sonic vision. Though the arrangements here are as focused as anything in the band’s discography, A Sleep is often downright sleepy, despite lyrics that are as startlingly emotional as anything in the Islands songbook. The haunting “Oh Maria,” which vividly conjures the aftermath of Buddy Holly’s infamous plane crash, is one of Thorburn’s finest ballads – an acoustic reverie with glorious harmonies and a chorus that ascends to the heavens; “This is Not a Song” is quietly cinematic, built on vintage Hollywood strings and purring Hammond organ.
Despite its Hallmark-friendly Feb. 14 release date, A Sleep & A Forgetting is the complete antithesis of Valentine’s Day. Throughout these 11 foggy gems, our maestro sounds lost in a sorrowful daze, as if his heart’s been pulverized by a sledgehammer. “I loved a girl, and I’ll never love again,” Thorburn sings on spacey, wandering closer “Same Thing.” There’s no one in this world I could ever love again.” It might be true that no man is an island, but Thorburn’s never sounded more like one.