If even the Dutch branch of the Fuzz is going Canadian this may well be the thin end of the wedge. Are our liberators heading for Indie world domination or is it just us? Montreal’s piano rock outfit Islands have no such aspirations. The band centered around frontman Nicholas Thorburn (aka Nick Diamonds) has been around since 2005 and has been chancing their sound and line-up with every of the four records they have released since.
The band’s last album A Sleep & A Forgetting was released on Valentines day. A case of irony since its central theme is Thornburn’s recent divorce. The album received a honorable 7,9 on Pitchfork, which is just one tenth of a point too low to be picked up in the wider blogosphere. I listened to the album a couple of times, but had all but forgotten about it when last Saturday I attended the band’s gig at the Bitterzoet.
I wasn’t too impressed with the show. Thornburn is a confusing stage personality, part modern day crooner, part art rock poseur. The problem is that he has neither the voice to convincingly deliver the AM pop ballads that make up A Sleep & A Forgetting nor flamboyancy needed to bring across the band’s more eccentric earlier work. Still, two good things came from attending Island’s gig. First of all, our guest cameraman Kozeis got to test whether his impressive photographic equipment makes for better recordings than are common. It’s a hell of a job to set up, that’s for sure. And when some one in the audience gets in between the camera and the band you have to resort to aggressive gestures.
The other good thing about last Saturday night is that I rediscovered A Sleep & A Forgetting. Normally a mediocre gig puts me of a record, but in this particular case it led to renewed appreciation. Contrary to his throaty performance at the Bitterzoet, Thornburn’s voice sounds smooth and soothing on a record filled with subtly instrumented confessional songs. At first listen the word kitsch sprang to mind, just as it did during the Bitterzoet gig. I was missing a sense of necessity that music needs to spark my interest.
After listening to the album for a bit longer I sense some genuine sadness and indignation brewing beneath that sugary layer of wedding band esthetics. If you listen to the album with some intensity and patience you might find that tardy croon songs like In A Dream It Seemed So Real and No Crying posses a certain suppressed meekness reminiscent of The Flaming Lips. Other songs have a hint of irony, but never enough to distract from their breezy prettiness. At those moment Islands reminds me of the Housemartins and the Beautiful South.
I didn’t hear any of this at the Bitterzoet last Saturday, distracted by an inconsistent repertoire and buoyant photographer singing: ‘Blame Canada! Blame Canada!’. They delivered another gem those beady eyed buggers.