In 2016, Islands recorded two albums—Taste and Should I Remain Here at Sea?—during a three-week burst and released them simultaneously. But what seemed like a new creative zenith for this indie-pop institution proved to be more of a last gasp. Exhausted by the perpetual tour-record-tour promotional cycle, bandleader Nick Thorburn quietly put the project to rest and leaned into the podcast-soundtrack work that had been piling up ever since he scored the theme to the ubiquitous true-crime saga Serial in 2014. But a famously prolific songwriter like Thorburn could never stay idle for too long, and within a few years, the LA-via-Montreal-via-British Columbia artist had accumulated enough new material not just for Islands’ first album in five years, Islomania, but also for another companion release to follow in short order. As ever, Islands remains a vessel for Thorburn’s equally whimsical and existential musings. But this time around, he wanted to pull a “George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I did before,” he tells Apple Music. “I wanted this record to be really rhythmic. When I stopped doing Islands, I was just making rap beats at home and not thinking about singing or even melody. So, that’s where this album came from—just trying to get a cool rhythm going.” With a team of collaborators that includes Ratatat’s Mike Stroud and producers Chris Coady and Patrick Ford, Thorburn steers Islands away from the seafaring prog-pop epics of old and toward the neon glow of the discotheque. In the process, he delivers a much-needed euphoric antidote to the tumultuous tenor of life in the early 2020s. But fans of Islands’ more dramatic gestures need not fear—Thorburn promises the follow-up record will be a lot darker. “If Islomania is the Saturday night record, then the next one will be the Sunday morning comedown—the ketamine to this album’s cocaine.” Here, Thorburn gives us his track-by-track diagnosis of Islomania. Islomania “This is kind of our theme song. Music can be like a narcotic—it can really affect your mood. And having come back to making music again after all these years, I needed to remind myself that music can make you feel good, and that I can channel that exuberance and bliss, as opposed to the misery. I have plenty of years left for the misery part!” (We Like To) Do It With the Lights On “Before the band came back, I was like, ‘I’m done with Islands, I’m done with being in a rock band, I’m done with touring.… What am I going to do now?’ And I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should try to write pop songs for other people.’ I had this title—‘We Like to Do It With the Lights On’—which seemed like a funny, cheeky song title, so I just tried to write a song around this beat that I composed. And once I started writing it, I was like, ‘This is kind of good—I want to keep this for myself!’ So, this song was one of the early signs that I was coming back. It’s kind of a continuation of the opening theme and that idea of ‘instead of living in the darkness, let’s get close, let’s get vulnerable, let’s look at each other and see each other in these potentially awkward moments, whether it’s dancing or lovemaking.’ It’s this idea of not hiding anymore and being open.” Carpenter “My dad was a carpenter, so that’s possibly what I was drawing from here. A lot of times when I’m writing, I’ll just let my subconscious guide me and move me along. But carpenter is such a loaded occupation, and I guess there are some references to religion in there. I don’t know why—I guess I was feeling messianic that day. I was raised Catholic, so it’s definitely seeded in me, as much as I feel nothing from it now." Closed Captioning “I was watching True Detective and could not make out a single word of what Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff were saying. There’s this style of prestige acting which is just mumbling—it’s like the sign of good acting is that you barely speak and barely open your mouth. So, I had to turn on the closed captioning to watch it. I was like, ‘This is fucking insane—am I going deaf? I just can’t understand a single word that anyone is saying in their Southern accents.’ And so, I just thought that was a funny conceit for a song, and a good metaphor to use as a jumping-off point.” Set the Fairlight “If this record is like a Saturday night where everyone’s feeling good, this is the moment where the bloom starts to come off the rose a little bit. It’s like, ‘Oh, things aren’t as rosy as I thought at the outset.’ Similar to ‘Carpenter,’ there wasn’t a conscious decision to write about anything in particular—it was just this abstract emotional feeling. But clearly, listening back, it sounds like I’m working through that feeling of being in isolation and lockdown, which was the case at that time. It was a really strange and upsetting time, so I guess I was releasing the pressure valve on that.” A Passionate Age “Mike from Ratatat was in LA and came by Sunset Sound and played guitar on ‘Closed Captioning.’ It was kind of magical. I was telling him how expensive that studio was, so he invited me up to his studio in the Catskills. A few months after that, I went up there and we made ‘A Passionate Age,’ and it was way too much fun. Mike basically replayed everything from my demo with his magic touch. Again, it was based on that idea of ‘let’s make a record that just fills you with some joy.’ It’s fun to go into the light. Lyrically, the song has kind of a dark edge to it, but it’s a reminder to stop and experience the world instead of trying to talk over it.” Natural Law Party “I’m just trying to have a good time and make my version of a party record. But so much of that is also about the physical and the spiritual and the transcendental nature of being human, and this idea of getting outside of your body. With ‘Natural Law Party,’ I just liked the play on words with the ‘party’ idea and the political party that Doug Henning led in Canada. Sometimes I’ll just start with a nice title, and then I can let the writing come from there. I built the song on this interpolation of an Arthur Russell song, ‘Tell You (Today),’ from his side project Loose Joints—this early ’80s disco one-off that he had. So, I basically just wrote on top of that rhythm and let it guide the song.” Never Let You Down “I was working with Chris Coady, and so much of working with Chris is just talking about music history, like The Velvet Underground and Depeche Mode. Chris is so full of stories and knowledge, and he hipped me to this documentary I’d never seen by D.A. Pennebaker about Depeche Mode—it's called 101. It’s a tour doc that follows the band and then intercuts with these fans who’d won some radio contest, and they make their way to the Rose Bowl in LA for this big stadium show. It was just really awesome to see Depeche Mode at their prime, and I guess that was twirling around in my head and I tried to channel that a little bit here.” Marble “This is definitely a wandering track, where the wheels come off of this exuberant record. The comedown is in effect. This Canadian author Thea Lim wrote a really wonderful novel called An Ocean of Minutes—it’s kind of a sci-fi novel about a couple who are separated, and she has to time-travel into the future to save him, but when she gets there, she can’t find him. So, it’s this yearning, wandering, really heartbreaking kind of story. It hit me in a specific way, and I think it was definitely the impetus for this song.” Gore “We’re entering the next chapter of Islands with these last two songs. Maybe I was in a pretty cynical, dark mood when I was writing this one. I never try to be overtly political when I’m writing—if you’re trying to have a statement song, it can get pretty cringe pretty quickly. But I was trying to convey a feeling of how I felt the last couple of years. I had been doing a little bit of canvassing for Bernie Sanders here in the US and saw this glimmer of hope and the possibility of a better world for people in this country. And it just turned out to be a dangling carrot, so there was some anger in seeing people with power kind of push everyone else around. I just wanted this wall of guitars and this plodding beat, like a lumbering giant stumbling to the finish line of this record and just barely making it across.”

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