Islands A Sleep & A Forgetting(ANTI-) Buy it from Insound
It seems that every time I listen to Islands, I'm pulled back to The Unicorns. Every single time. As a result, I'm trapped in a constant loop of evaluating them on their changes from a band of my teenage years to a band of my 20-somethings, backing away from those comparisons, taking a break to let it sink in, and trying again — only to have the relation pop back up again.
It's clearly not quite right to make that same comparison time and time again. This is their fourth album, and by this point, you'd think they could stand on their own merit. And, well, they can. Don't get me wrong. (It's me, not them.) But there's something, I think, to the comparison; there's some value in evaluating a band in where they've been (albeit in a different incarnation.) But even that's not quite fair. It's a bit like rating Mr. McCartney's Wings on the merits of The Beatles, if that doesn't extend the metaphor a bit.
But at any rate, A Sleep & A Forgetting — the work at hand, before I, too, engage is this sort of forgetting — does stand on its own, and it's worth taking a look at some of the more interesting bits. See, it's not exactly rollicking (most of the time), and a good deal of it is populated rather sparsely by acoustic guitars and some vocals. Oh Maria takes that formula to heart for roughly half a track, but it's when the harmonies that come into play and some further instrumentation springs up that it edges toward exciting.
And the whole of the album's roughly like that, give or take. There's a steady foot-tapping beat that builds throughout, but it never reaches that apex that makes it seem worth the wait. And perhaps it's for that reason that the album title fits entirely too well. There's a sleepy feel, and not exactly — if you pardon the loose pun — that breezy island sort of sleepy feel. Instead, it's that there's a very steady rhythm permeating the album, and if you're not careful, it may very well be one of those sleep-lulling rhythms.
We've got good evidence that Islands are well and truly capable of more exciting work, and that is, I think, what's frustrating about A Sleep & A Forgetting. There's a feeling here that something more is lurking under the surface — not in an ominous swamp monster way like that might imply — but it's just never quite surfaced. It's a bit of a shame, too, because if there's one thing this album could do with, it's a bit of variety.
I don't just mean tonal variety, either. There's enough of that to go around, really, and it's not just acoustic and electric guitars being juxtaposed. Instrumentally, there's nothing to gripe about. There's some piano work, there's plenty of guitar work, the drums are emotionally driving. But the songs that illustrates that variety best — Never Go Solo, Can't Feel My Face — are also the times the pace seems to vary much at all, and that may be largely illusory anyway. When the pace picks up, the album picks up. When the pace returns to that regrettably normal mode, the album almost stagnates. It doesn't have to, and that's where the frustration kicks in.
A Sleep & A Forgetting, too many times, just lapses into a general malaise. It's not as if the songwriting's not up to it. It clearly is. It's just that, well, it gets a bit boring, a bit sleepy, and altogether, it's a bit forgettable. That's unfortunate, I think, because Islands is a band capable of something more rollicking, more exciting, more engaging: In the end, it's all kind of lost. But, you know? It sounds good doing it. That has to count for something.21 February, 2012 - 10:11 — Matt Montgomery