At the end of 2016, after ten years and seven albums, Nick Thorburn quietly decided to put an end to Islands and retire from music. There was no announcement or farewell, only two shows at Webster Hall in New York and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the band’s widely adored debut album Return to the Sea. “This seemed like a perfect time to put a cap on things and close out the circle,” Thorburn says. He switched focus, selling and producing a pilot television script, creating a graphic novel with preeminent comics publisher Fantagraphics, and scoring a few films and the occasional BBC radio show.
Thorburn’s years-long leave of absence resulted in a kind of rock and roll Rumspringa, with Nick unable to shake the bug for making records. After a sudden burst of creativity from a few weeks of working in his kitchen studio, Thorburn had written dozens and dozens of songs informed by everything from late-70s avant-disco to Thea Lim’s time-travel novel An Ocean of Minutes, and would write dozens more over the next year and a half, almost all with a clear focus on rhythm and groove.
Thorburn decided that if he was going to make another Islands record, he’d do it without a deadline. He also wanted to work with outside producers, which would be his first time since 2009’s Vapours. He reached out to that album’s producer, Chris Coady (Beach House, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) , and asked Islands drummer Adam Halferty and guitarist Geordie Gordon to join him in a recording session at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.
“At the time I still wasn’t sure what this new music was going to be, or if coming back to Islands even made any sense,” says Thorburn. “But once we started playing, it quickly became clear this would be the next Islands album.”
Five years after Islands went dormant, Nick resurrected the band, who reemerge this year with their 8th album, Islomania. More than two years in the making, Islomania is a culmination of things Thorburn learned from the intervening period and all the things he’d accomplished during the band’s initial ten year run.
That initial session at Sunset Sound also featured Mike Stroud (RATATAT) on guitar, who then invited Thorburn to his studio in the Catskills, where they worked on another song (“A Passionate Age”). With Islands bassist Evan Gordon soon brought into the fold, Islomania slowly came to life over the coming year, with more sessions in LA involving producer Patrick Ford (Tanlines, !!!) and Coady. When the songs had been sufficiently finessed, they brought on John Congleton (Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent) to mix and Joe LaPorta (Vampire Weekend, David Bowie) to master.
“I was determined to let the record breathe, let the process take as long as it needed. I wanted the freedom to rework the songs as we went along,” says Thorburn, noting that the band’s simultaneously released 2016 albums Taste and Should I Remain Here at Sea? were completely recorded in a three-week span. Through this unhurried process, Islands found an entirely new form for their idiosyncratic blend of art rock and synth-pop, ultimately arriving at their strongest record yet.
Over the course of ten groove-heavy songs, Islomania flits from the ridiculous to the sublime. On the surface, these songs are all blissful hedonism, tracing the reckless abandon of a progressively wild Friday night. But pick at the scab and there’s a darkness. Themes of futility