Music

Islands: Ski Mask

For his follow-up to the excellent A Sleep and a Forgetting, Nick Thorburn returns to more quirky indie-pop fare. Kind of.


Islands

Ski Mask

Label: Manque
US Release Date: 2013-09-17
UK Release Date: 2013-10-28
Amazon
iTunes

A Sleep and a Forgetting, the last record from Islands, the Montreal indie-pop outfit headed by Nick Thorburn, was a mature, melodic, and heartfelt breakup album. It also was a bit of a left turn from the more whimsical, quirky material Islands was known for. Some fans and critics thought A Sleep and a Forgetting was, while accomplished, also a bit dull. Though its steady, clean production and relatively straightforward arrangements did sound grown-up, the focus provided by the subject matter, however traumatic, made for one of the best indie albums of 2012.

The good news for those who preferred a more freewheeling Thorburn is that Ski Mask does loosen things back up again, at least in part. But it doesn't totally abandon the clearer sound and more pensive mood of its predecessor, either. Thus, Ski Mask, while a good distillation Islands' various approaches, does not represent the best of any of them.

The album's first half is full of the jaunty, almost cabaret-style pop that will be familiar to Thorburn fans. Lead single "Wave Forms" features a bobbing, playful bassline before the soaring, ultra-catchy chorus takes hold. "Death Drive" has a calliope, delivering you to a sinister yet strangely enjoyable fairground, while "Nil" is a shuffling two-step. The highlight of this section is "Becoming the Gunship", a rockabilly-flavored, midtempo number that strongly recalls late-period Morrissey, yet one-ups Moz in terms of clever metaphors and anthemic, memorable choruses alike. There's nothing as fun or frankly charming as, say, "Hallways" from A Sleep and a Forgetting, but there's nothing much to complain about, either, and the return of goofy analog synths sounds adds an appreciably "proggy" feel.

Ski Mask runs into some trouble when it gets into its second half, which eventually becomes bogged down in soggy, nondescript ballads and slowies. "Hushed Tones", built off percussive, staccato guitar feedback, is pretty and warm, but quickly wears out its welcome. And, while Thorburn may have more-or-less gotten divorce out of his system, Ski Mask finds him grappling not with emotional freedom but rather with death itself. "You said, 'Life's not a gas / It's a gas chamber'", goes one line from "We'll Do It So You Don't Have To". The music crawls along, and despite the occasional up tic in tempo or key, the overall effect is oppressive and, more troublingly, nothing really grabs you musically or emotionally. Nothing, that is, except the admittedly gorgeous strummer "Here Here".

Throughout, the production, again by Thorburn and bandmate Evan Gordon, is clean and uncluttered, even though most tracks clearly have multiple layers. Thorburn's voice is good, as well, sounding defiant or delicate as need be. His sometimes-clipped phrasing is unique, and his songwriting still features key changes, twists, and turns that have now become expectedly unexpected. In short, Ski Mask is a solid Islands album, but it lacks the thematic and musical cohesion of Thorburn's best work. If A Sleep and A Forgetting was a breakthrough of sorts, this is a bit of a retreat.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image