Islands: "You Don't Want to Get Too Bogged Down in the Studio"

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Nick Thorburn calls Islands' fifth album, Ski Mask, a culmination and summation of everything the band has done.

Since the band arrived with Return to the Sea (after the dissolution of The Unicorns), Islands has turned in stylistically varied albums, from explosively poppy to emotionally somber.

"Ski Mask is everything we've been about," Thorburn says. "Part of why that's the case is in the most literal terms because a lot of the material on the records spans six years or so of Islands. Certain songs were sitting with me for many years before I could find the right home for them. The songs on Ski Mask for me feel connected and joined. That helps give it the feels of an overall reflection of Islands at this point."

Thorburn says the songs on Ski Mask are aggressive, written about the darker side of people's intentions, and make use of harsh imagery, like with the album's first single "Becoming the Gunship."

"That's always been a theme I've been interested in, the ambiguity of someone's intentions," says Thorburn, describing how the album's garish cover art and name work together with the songs. "A ski mask could be used for nefarious means, but it isn't necessarily anything evil. That ties into the theme of the record, the potential for evil and amoral decisions."

Writing songs over the years, first with The Unicorns in Montreal and later as he relocated Islands to Los Angeles, Thorburn says the stylistic shifts simply work to serve what each song needs.

"It's not too calculated. Certain songs just make that decision for me. But sometimes they need a little prodding and you have to plug it in like a puzzle piece," he says.

Islands' sound -- and lineup -- has shifted from album to album, but Ski Mask is the first to make so many leaps during a single record, a risk Thorburn says he was ready to take.

"Stylistically, touching on different sounds from the different records we've done worked well," he says.

The strongest songs on Ski Mask -- from the opener "Wave Forms" to "Becoming the Gunship" and second-half highlights "Hushed Tones" and "Shotgun Vision" - make a good case for the success of Thorburn's aim to distill everything Islands has done into one album.

"I think they make sense together," he says. "Some of them are so old I don't even really remember what I was talking about. I remember feeling compelled to write them, but I don't know exactly what I was thinking about." "I know I've said it was an angry record, but I'm not so sure I was right. It's a violent record. The imagery is violent, but I don't necessarily think it's angry. It might be misdirected or something like that. To me it feels sad, but not passive. It's an aggressive sort of record. Lyrically it's kind of pissed off," he says.

One clear evolution Islands has made over the years is becoming a more nimble and effective live band, whether it's playing the more intimate break-up album A Sleep & a Forgetting or the all-over-the-map Ski Mask.

"The last two records are really crafted in a way that lends itself to live performance. We recorded the songs live, we got complete takes of everything. For the most part of what you hear is what it sounds like when four people are playing in a room, so that really translates well live," Thorburn says. "It's fun. You don't want to get too bogged down in the studio and not be able to go out and play your record faithfully."

The Ski Mask tour is a culmination for the band too, with songs selected from the entire Islands history.

"We dip through all five records live, some more than others," Thorburn says. "We try to touch on all the styles that we've attempted, so live it works. We can go in and out of different styles and tempos and tones."

Islands is scheduled to perform Thursday, January 23, at Crescent Ballroom.

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