College Tribune | september 16 2008
Islands are forever Enigmatic driving force behind Islands, Nick Thorburn, chats to Sebastian Clare ahead of their forthcoming Dublin appearance “I like the idea of always changing. I mean, even on a molecular level I’m always changing.” So jests Nick Thorburn about the fluctuating line-up of what is now his own pet project, the Canadian indierock band Islands. He certainly must be used to change: After the somewhat acrimonious break-up of his previous band the Unicorns in 2005, Nick and his close cohort J’aime Tambeur (Jamie Thompson) set up Islands. Just a year later, Jamie too had split. Thorburn is pensive when it comes to discussing the impact of his friend’s departure. “It gave me greater freedom, but at the time I didn’t have that perspective. It really did seem like the end of my musical career. We’d been so interwound musically and emotionally with our career that we shared. When he left I kinda felt like I was unravelling as well.” Thorburn has even imposed some nomenclatural adjustments on himself . Last year he reverted back to his original surname of Thorburn, casting aside the monikor he had used throughout his professional career, Nick Diamond. “I guess I just outgrew that sort of adolescent name. It didn’t have an intense amount of significance for me.” Nick has often commented on how a large part of Islands’ progression has been the growing maturity of the band, as opposed to the jocular irreverent glee that characterised the Unicorns. Was this alteration tied in with Thorburn’s desire to gain or exhibit a greater maturity? “I guess so… I think that was my initial intention although now, listening to that it sounds a little immature - striving or straining for maturity
by changing my name!” Initially, Islands appeared to retain a large dose of the spirit of Unicorns, as was certainly evident from their debut release, 2006’s Return To The Sea. Similar infectious melodies, similar rapier-sharp diction, similar wacky eccentricity, but Thorburn outlines where the change lies. “It was just a slow evolution, having a better grasp of how to lead a band, how to write songs, how
“Listening to that it sounds a little immature - striving or straining for maturity by changing my name!” to function as a band. It was learning by doing. In Unicorns I was playing bass when I didn’t know how to play bass.” At the time, Thorburn was irritable about the constant comparisons with the Unicorns, insisting that his new project had a unique identity that would surpass his previous band’s music. However, he now admits that the DIY nature of the album’s production also evidently contributed to what was a promising, ambitious, but ultimately flawed creation. “With Islands first record it was an album made by a band that didn’t really exist. We had friends coming to play. We did all the overdubs, the drums, the guitars. Every step of my musical career has been that way. I’m sure there’s a pithy little
analogy or allegory I could use to describe it but I can’t think of one” Islands released their second album earlier this year, Arm’s Way, and within it showed that they have indeed come a long way since their debut. As with Return To The Sea, this was an ambitious album; a complex, adventurous, intricate collection of songs with the same infectious melodies that had
pact.” There was also a notably heavier sound characterised by Arm’s Way, a trait Nick puts down to listening to a lot of T-Rex while nonetheless stressing that “I can’t say if there was one over-arching influence, it was a combination of seemingly inconsequential things.” In their relatively brief existence, Islands have become notorious for their unique live shows, occasionally leading their bewitched audience out of the venue and into the streets – “pied piper style”. Nick is enthusiastic when it comes to his band’s live shows. “Well with six of us, every range of live music, every corner of sound is accounted for within those six people. The violins, the mid-range guitars, the vocals. It’s definitely a pleasing, full sound.” It is to be hoped that such a replete, harmonious sound, allied with an exuberant live style, will make for a nigh-on overwhelming experience when Islands play Kennedys on the 20th of September.
marked its predecessor. Where it differed was in the fact that was more cohesive, less sprawling. Some might say this would be an organic development for a band finding its feet, a natural progression. “I guess it’s kind of a cop-out in a way, because you could say that about anything. But there is a certain amount of contingency to it. Whatever I was listening to had an im-
If you read the music press at all, you’ll know that Glasvegas are hotly tipped as the ‘next big thing’. You may also be labouring under the illusion that they sound like Oasis or The Jesus And Mary Chain. These comparisons stem from the fact that the music press is populated largely by moronic bedwetters, hacks and dilletantes. What Glasvegas are is a strange pop band with a profoundly talented singer/songwriter fronting them. The biggest criticism that can be leveled at this album is that musically, it’s a little one-note. Every song but Stabbed - a sort of skewed piano ballad-comemonologue - is a soft wash of delay heavy guitar with a pounding rhythm section and a big chorus. What saves them from sounding like a Glaswegian Killers are the lyrics of James Allan, who may turn out to be the finest English lyricist since Morrissey: They have in common exceptional powers of observation, but where the ‘Queen Bitch with the Quiff’
retreated into snide misanthropy, and eventually curdled into a middle-aged irrelevancy, Allan offers up gems of human sympathy. Stephen Patrick never spun us around a cascade of shifting narrators, as Allan does on Go Square Go, until we don’t know whether the closing ‘Here we fucking go’s are exhilaration, frustration or resignation. You may find yourself confused by Glaswegian rockabilly fans singing about infidelity, sorrow and human frailty. However, the vast washes of reverbed guitar turn to canvases of varied, vivid palettes when backing James Allan’s howls and whispers.
Electro-shock Blues, released in ten years ago this weekv, is Eels most musically audacious album to date. Written in response to Mark “E” Everett finding himself “the only surviving member of his family”, the lyrics are underpinned by bleak subject matter which is candidly conveyed. It is this element of the album that is mainly responsible for Electro-shock Blues’ underrated status, warding off the faint-hearted and fuelling a critical urge to dismiss the album as ‘depressing’. Though the opening track might encourage such impressions; “waking up is harder when you want to die”, it is a mistake not to see Electro-shock Blues as the melodic grieving process it really is, and as such, pursue it through its immensely diverse creative journey to the strangely buoyant final track “P.S You Rock My World”. The album’s lyrics, though self-indulgent, are never whiny. Everett even manages to push through his own sardonic sense of humour; “life is funny, but not ha ha funny, peculiar I guess” on “3 Speed”. Musically, the album is impossible to pin down. “Cancer for the Cure” is a prime example of the kind of daring arrangement that secures Electro-shock Blues’
place as a late nineties classic. It combines an intro that contains Waits resonances and a catchy pop-synth chorus that takes its lyrics from the songs title. “My descent Into Madness” is another, coupling a hip-hop beat with momentarily elaborate string sections to intriguing effect. Even Everett’s throaty vocals, usually a constant in Eels records, are mingled with one-time Eels drummer Jonathan “Butch” Norton’s significant vocal input on this record. Lullaby melodies infiltrate the gloriously diverse 48 minutes though a soothing effect is questionable; indeed, they afford some shelter from the emotional storm but at the same time exemplify the harsh realities at the core of the album. “Baby Genius”, a song supposed to be about Everett’s father, the quantum physicist Dr. Hugh Everett III, provides the most interesting use of the lullaby tone. It combines sounds like smashing crockery and
simple lyrics; “Small body and small mind, big head and big headaches.”
Electro-shock Blues is above all a beautiful contradiction of an album, managing to both unnerve and soothe by being brash and gentle in equal measure. P.S You Rock My World”is a fitting climax, musically it is tight and accomplished and lyrically it offers some almost-hopeful closure; “maybe it’s time to live”. Though not as commercially successful as its predecessor Beautiful Freak, Electro-shock Blues is undoubtedly a richer listen. Characteristically, Everett once described Electro-shock Blues as “a big emotional shit he had to take”. Lucky for the sparse musical landscape of the late nineties he decided to share it; an ambitious yet enduring, generously self-involved feat of musical arrangement.
Published on Sep 15, 2008