Working through all the the moving pieces of Islomania (Royal Mountain Records), Islands’ first release in five years, over a two-year period, frontman Nick Thorburn finished the last song on the album, “Set the Fairlight,” in 2020.
Shining a light around the grim–from the echo in the concert halls to the cemetery wall—and anxieties—I guess that’s the way, that it moves along / I can’t hardly wait to see where it goes wrong, “Set the Fairlight” is entrancing. Swelling around textured arrangements of floating guitar and rapturous synth, “Set the Fairlight” confronts distressing uncertainties, an urgency to connect, and other mortal contemplations.
“I suppose it’s vaguely about the feeling of anxiety and fear brought on by COVID,” says Thorburn. “There’s separation, isolation and the desire to reach out and touch someone. None of these themes were calculated or labored over, though. Like most of my songwriting, I kind of let the subconscious take the wheel. I find I get to more interesting places when I’m not trying to steer the metaphors.”
Recording bi-coastal, the band Initially worked at Sunset Sounds in Los Angeles, then to a Catskills, New York studio owned by Mike Stroud (RATATAT), before returning back to LA after bringing on bassist Evan Gordon.
Working with producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House), mixed by John Congleton (Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent), and mastered by Joe LaPorta (David Bowie, Vampire Weekend, David Bowie), on Islomania the Thorburn wanted to move away from the rushed recording of the band’s previous 2016 releasesTaste and Should I Remain Here at Sea?, which were both recorded in a three-week period.
“I was determined to let the record breathe, let the process take as long as it needed,” he says. “I wanted the freedom to rework the songs as we went along.”
Thorburn adds, “Tension and release exist throughout. Every song here begins bottled up, but there’s always a cathartic release by the end. There’s darkness and doubt in every crevice of this record, but there’s always a release.”