"This album is far more personal than any I've made before," Thorburn explains. "I left New York after the end of a relationship and came to Los Angeles. There was a piano where I was staying and that's where I wrote these songs. This record deals with loss, with memory and forgetting and with dreaming. I started writing it on Valentine's Day and its coming out on Valentine's Day."
A Sleep & A Forgetting is the anticipated follow up to Islands critically heralded record Vapours, which Black Book described as "infectious and weird....masterful" and Popmatters proclaimed "a damn fine record." The new album was produced by Thorburn and fellow Islands member Evan Gordon in less than two weeks, the 11 songs recorded live with hardly a single overdub. It's a stripped down process and beautifully understated sound which only reinforces the confessional content of the lyrics
The new album offers all the shimmering sonic textures and irresistible melodies that have come to define Islands enduring appeal, but there is a deeply personal cathartic undercurrent to the songs. "The sound is really my interpretation of soul music," Thorburn offers. "I mean, I'm a white kid from Canada so it's gonna be very warped. But that's where my head was at, that particular way of dealing with themes of pain and heartbreak."
While admittedly listening to the classic soul of Smokey Robinson and The Temptations, Thorburn was also influenced by the introspective folk of artists such as Sibylle Baier, Maddy Prior and June Tabor. As a result the sound is less an approximation of classic Northern soul and more akin to the symphonic and cathartic pop of soul baring artists like Harry Nilsson and Roy Orbison. As the late Link Wray once said, "Soul music is pain."
And it comes together to striking effect on songs like the heartfelt ballad "Same Thing" with its echoing modernist beat, lilting refrain and confessional lyrics such as: "I can't wait to see, what becomes of me, the ease with which I sleep, tends to frighten me." As Thorburn explains, "I wrote that song when I was just in the depths. It was just this surreal and intensely cathartic experience." On the darkly dramatic "Oh Maria" Thorburn sings of Buddy Holly's anguished young widow and her reoccurring crash site dreams. "She would have these dreams about being in the field where his plane went down," Thorburn says. "She would be trying desperately to get past all the bystanders to see him one last time. It's such an evocative story it just stuck with me. And it's absolutely consistent with the album's themes of heartbreak, death and dreaming. "
Far from being self pitying, A Sleep & A Forgetting powerfully transforms personal unrest into affecting and soulful pop music. "It's kind of frightening," Thorburn reflects.
"I've always hidden behind devices and humor but this album is just so much starker and open." And it's a risk that absolutely pays off. The new record features some of the most startling and memorable songs from a supremely talented band which has continued to both evolve or surprise.