Breaking Artist: Islands - Rolling Stone
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Breaking Artist: Islands

Who: Islands, a Montreal collective that combines sophisticated indie pop with epic-sounding classic rock on their sophomore album Arm’s Way. Leading the charge into the expansive widescreen and Technicolor compositions is frontman Nick Thorburn, formerly of the Unicorns.

Sounds Like: As songs splinter and converge, the more complex compositional urges of fellow Quebecers Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade float to the surface. Arm’s Way also owes a debt to the rock operas of Electric Light Orchestra and the Who. “When I’m sitting at the edge of my bed and I’m working out a song, sometimes I guess I get bored with a part,” Thorburn says. “I lose interest or I get distracted, and all these different ideas coming flooding out and I can’t really contain them. Every idea has to have its moment.”

Vital Stats:

• Despite the epic quality of the record, Thorburn says the album caters to people with short attention spans. “On the surface level, the songs are long, but on the other hand, the songs are changing constantly and repetition occurs rarely,” he explains. “It kind of indulges the attention deficit disorders.”

• Halfway through Arm’s Way‘s hushed anthem “In The Rushes,” the band interpolates the closing act of a similarly multi-layered song, the Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away.” “Something I think the Islands is really about is live sampling, where we make these references to pop music and you’re engaged in a dialogue with pop music,” Thorburn says. “Plus, I guess ‘A Quick One’ just rocks really hard.”

• Thorburn’s previous band the Unicorns were on the verge of indie rock stardom before disbanding in 2004. Two-thirds of that band ultimately became Islands. “The Unicorns was my coming-of-age as a songwriter. I figured out how to play the instruments after the band had formed. There was definitely an adolescent streak,” Thorburn says. “Islands is something I always wanted to do: to work with a lot of musicians. Islands are a little more fleshed out, more thoughtful.”

Hear It Now: Islands are streaming three Arm’s Way songs on their MySpace page, the song “The Arm” is now available on iTunes (with a cover of Beck’s “Cyanide Breath Mint” as a b-side) and the album itself is due out May 20th. Until then, click above for an exclusive live video of Islands performing the single “Creeper” at this year’s South By Southwest festival, complete with Thorburn’s audio commentary.


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