Islands (band)

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Background information
Origin Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Genres Indie rock, indie pop, art rock
Years active 2005–present
Labels ANTI-, Rough Trade, Tomlab
Associated acts The Unicorns, Th' Corn Gangg, Small Is Beautiful, Juiced Elfers, Human Highway, Sister Suvi, The Magic, American Tomahawk, Mister Heavenly, Evan Gordon and the Sad Clowns
Members Nicholas Thorburn
Evan Gordon
Geordie Gordon
Adam Halferty
Past members Jim Guthrie
Aaron Harris
Kate Perkins
Mike Feuerstack
Jamie Thompson
Patrice Agbokou
Patrick Gregoire
Sebastian Chow
Alexander Chow
Luc Laurent

Islands is an indie rock band formed in 2005 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and currently based in Los Angeles, California.


The band was formed by Nicholas Thorburn and Jamie Thompson immediately following the breakup of The Unicorns, which included them and Alden Penner. Thorburn and Thompson also formed hip-hop group Th' Corn Gangg at the same time.

Return to the Sea[edit]

In mid-2005 Islands recorded a debut album titled Return to the Sea, which was released in April 2006. The album was recorded in Montreal, Canada, at Breakglass Studio and in Jamie Thompson's bedroom, and was produced by audio engineer/record producer Mark Lawson.

Islands mixing debut album Return to the Sea in Jamie's bedroom. Left to Right: Sarah Neufeld (violin, Arcade Fire), Nick Diamonds (Islands), Mark Lawson (audio engineer), Richard Parry (upright bass, Arcade Fire), Jamie Thompson (Islands), Becky Foon (cello, A Silver Mt. Zion and Esmerine).

Return to the Sea was re-mastered in England for the European version of the album, and was released there by Rough Trade Records on April 3, 2006. In North America, the album was released on the upstart label Equator Records on April 4, 2006. The cover of the album is one of Caspar David Friedrich's famous paintings, The Wreck of the Hope.

The album features numerous guest appearances, including members of Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade. Two songs, "Flesh" and "Abominable Snow", were released to the public through The Simple Mission in June 2004, though neither appeared on the debut album. "Abominable Snow" had begun life as a song performed live by the Unicorns prior to their breakup.

Return to the Sea has been described by Nick as having "some dancehall influences, some calypso... It's more diverse and sprawling and ambitious",[1] and is "A bit more mature than The Unicorns... More of a Neil Young / Brian Wilson vibe running through it." [2]

The band played various shows around the US and Canada throughout mid-late 2005, followed by an opening slot for Metric on their early 2006 tour. After Return to the Sea was released in April 2006, the band embarked on their first full headlining tour, playing small clubs around the US and Canada throughout May. They were joined by Cadence Weapon and Why? on the first half of the tour, and Cadence Weapon and Busdriver on the second. The band generally received critical acclaim for their live shows, which sometimes ended with the band leading the audience out of the venue "pied piper style" and onto the surrounding streets.

Positions in Islands consist of Nicholas Thorburn (main vocals, synthesizer, guitar), Aaron Harris (drums), Sebastian Chow (xylophone, violin), Alex Chow (synthesizer, violin), Patrick Gregoire (guitar, bass clarinet) and Patrice Agbokou (bass guitar).

Jamie Thompson's departure/European Tour[edit]

On May 28, 2006, it was announced that Thompson would be leaving the band. He stated, "I'm just not sure that being in a successful band is all that important to me anymore. I'm not leaving because of any problems with people in the band. It's very hard to do this, Nick and I have been creating together for quite a long time now... our relationship, both creative and personal is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life." Of Islands' future he said, "I think Islands is one of the best, if not the best band out there these days, and I have every confidence that they will do incredibly well." This quote was displayed on the band's website for a short time, before being taken down. Islands decided to continue on without Thompson, and a European tour was scheduled, and further recordings confirmed.

Diamonds commented upon Thompson's departure, saying "Jamie has left Islands, but the band waltzes on! We wish Jamie the best in his new life. Islands are forever."[3]

The band stayed relatively quiet in early and mid June following Jamie's departure from the band. However, in late June, with the European tour just weeks away, the band made two surprise appearances in Montreal, performing with a strikingly new lineup featuring new drummer Aaron Harris and new vocalist/violinist/percussionist Kate Perkins. Former touring guitarist Jim Guthrie was also noticeably absent from the band's roster. In 2006 the band did a Take-Away Show session with Vincent Moon.

The band departed for Europe the following week.

Despite his departure from the band he was seen backstage with Islands playing the tambourine at the 2008 Coachella Festival.[citation needed]

Arm's Way[edit]

Following their European tour, Islands toured Iceland, the United States and Canada premiering several songs from their new album including: "The Arm", "Kids", and "We Swim". Throughout their tour, it was not unusual to hear various cover songs such as the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" and Sinéad O'Connor's "Red Football." In interviews around this time members of the band were quoted as saying that the next album would be 'heavier,' with Nick listening to a lot of T.Rex.

In a Pitchfork Media interview, Diamonds talked about future recording: "Yeah, we're thinking January or February. I've got high hopes for a producer...This guy Jeff Lynne. He was in ELO and the Traveling Wilburys. He also did a George Harrison song that's one of my favorites, "Got My Mind Set on You." It's got the most amazing production. He gets such great sounds and vocals. Just the sound of the guitar and the drums is a perfect pop sound. I really want this record to be a good, good pop record."[4] Diamonds later said that he was reconsidering this choice.

As well, on January 6, 2007, Diamonds posted on the band's website that he and the band would enter the studio and begin recording a new album in February. He stated that the album was already being planned out and specifically that the track list and title was picked out. Additionally, he said that he was dropping the "Diamonds" from his name and that he would be using his original name surname Thorburn from then on.

In January 2008, the band announced a short six date UK tour in February, playing shows in Manchester, Bristol, Nottingham, Brighton, Cambridge and London.

In February 2008, it was announced that Islands had signed to Los Angeles based ANTI- records, and the band appeared at the ANTI- SXSW showcase.

Islands' follow-up, Arm's Way would leak to various BitTorrent and file-sharing sites on April 11, 2008. The album would then be officially released on May 20, 2008, featuring a more anthematistical sound to its tracks than had previously been heard by people listening to a playback of their debut. In addition, the album featured a song entitled "Abominable Snow" previously performed live by Nick Thorburn's former band The Unicorns.


As of June 19, 2009, it was confirmed that Jamie Thompson had returned to Islands. Thompson's return was part of a huge band lineup overhaul in which every member save for Thorburn left the group. Thompson joined Evan Gordon and Geordie Gordon as the members of Islands' new lineup alongside Thorburn. The third Islands album, Vapours, was released September 22, 2009.

After Vapours was released, the band began an extensive North American tour, often featuring artists Jemina Pearl and Toro Y Moi.[5] During the spring of 2010, Islands toured Europe, playing shows in Northern and Western Europe throughout March and April.[6]

In an interview with Exclaim!, Nick Thorburn explained how he likes to try new things, which is why he dismantled the line-up from Arm's Way to create an all-new line-up for Vapours. He remarked, "That's important to me ― to be able to constantly try new things. That's why this record's largely informed by electronic stuff like drum machines, sequencing, and programming, which really scales it back from the last record." [7]

Jamie Thompson once again left the band prior to the summer 2010 tour. He was again replaced with drummer Aaron Harris. No reason for his departure has been officially announced.

A Sleep & a Forgetting[edit]

Following the release of Vapours, Nick Thorburn released an album with Mister Heavenly called Out of Love, which Thorburn described as "a new (sub)genre... called Doom Wop, which is essentially low frequency, and extremely slowed down music atop traditional doo wop harmonies."[8]

On October 25 it was announced on the Anti-Records blog that a new Islands record A Sleep & a Forgetting had been recorded and released on February 14, 2012. “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 it’s coming out on Valentine’s Day.”[9] The album's title is a reference to the line "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting" (line 59) of William Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality, which also deals with a meditation on the themes of loss, memory, and forgetting. A Sleep and A Forgetting is also the title of a William Dean Howells novella.

After Jamie Thompson's second departure and Aaron Harris's brief return for a tour, Nick Thorburn invited drummer Luc Laurent to record "A Sleep & A Forgetting." Laurent became a member of Islands in November 2011 after his band Pepper Rabbit broke up.

The song Hallways from the album was featured in a commercial for Dell and the Microsoft Surface tablet.

Ski Mask[edit]

In July 2013, Nick Thorburn began hinting at a new Islands album. He soon posted a link to the band's website on Facebook revealing the upcoming release of a new album called Ski Mask. The first single, Wave Forms, was released on July 9 via SoundCloud and can streamed here. The full album "Ski Mask" was released on September 17, 2013, followed by a number of tours across US, Canada, & Europe, including an appearance Primavera Sound Fest in Barcelona.[10]


On January 28, 2016, Islands posted on their website [11] that they will release two independent, separate albums—"Taste" and "Should I Remain Here, at Sea?" on May 13, 2016. They were crowd-funded through a Pledgemusic campaign,[12] reaching close to one and a half times their goal as of February, 2016. In a letter posted by Nick Thornburn on Pledgemusic, he described Taste: "Taste is more electronic, buoyed by drum machines, programming and vintage synths.

Should I Remain Here, At Sea?[edit]

This album was announced alongside "Taste," to be released on the same date. In January, 2016, Nick Thornburn stated: "Last summer, Islands decamped to a little studio in Toronto to make not one, but TWO new albums. Don’t get it twisted: This is not a double album- These are two distinct, entirely unrelated records." [13]

Nick stated on their Pledgemusic crowdfunding campaign: "Should I Remain Here, At Sea? is more organic, with a few songs recorded entirely off the floor (vocals and everything) using guitars and drums."[14] He said of both albums: "They are two facets of what I’ve long been interested in pursuing in music making. Upbeat, propulsive songs (essentially my twisted version of what a “pop” song could be), and more doleful, melancholic songs."






Year Song Album
2006 "Rough Gem" Return to the Sea
2006 "Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby" Return to the Sea
2007 "Dnttakemy Wingzz Away" Tomlab Alphabet Series -S-
2008 "The Arm" Arm's Way

Studio albums[edit]

Year Album Label
2006 Return to the Sea Equator Records
2008 Arm's Way ANTI-
2009 Vapours ANTI-
2012 A Sleep & a Forgetting ANTI-
2013 Ski Mask Manqué

TV Appearances[edit]

Unreleased songs & Covers (played live)[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jessica Suarez, "Ex-Unicorns Spill Guts About Breakup, New Band", Pitchfork Media, August 26, 2005.
  2. ^ Googe, "Song of the Week, Overlooked Album, Meet Islands", Indie Rock Cafe, January 12, 2007.
  3. ^ Amy Phillips, "J'Aime Tambeur Quits Islands", Pitchfork Media, May 30, 2006.
  4. ^ Jessica Suarez, "Interview: Islands", Pitchfork Media, June 19, 2006.
  5. ^ Phillips, Amy. Islands Reveal LP Cover, Tour Dates. Pitchfork Media, July 27, 2009
  6. ^ Official website: Tour dates
  7. ^ Islands in the Slipstream. Exclaim! magazine. September, 2009.
  8. ^ Evan Weiss (2009-10-20). "The Arts Section: Islands Feature". The Arts Section. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 
  9. ^ John (2011-10-25). "Islands Announce New Album!". Islands Announce New Album!. Retrieved 2011-10-25. 
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External links[edit]