And That’s Why Dolphins Lost Their Legs, the ninth studio album by Islands, is comprised of eleven sonic nuggets of upbeat indie pop. Don’t get it twisted, while the tracks here are largely cheerful in tone musically, the project’s frontman, singer-songwriter Nick Thorburn, hasn’t lost his edge lyrically. Take, for instance, the record’s first single, “Life’s A Joke”, a deceptively simple song sprinkled with canned laughter and propelled by a pulsing analogue synthesizer-generated rhythm. Although the catchy moment’s bouncy chords and interspersed, cute, squiggly sound effects may put a smile on your face initially, look deeper. “Fuck your god, he closed the window and shut the door,” Thorburn sings in the song’s pre-chorus, reminding us that the darkness is just around the corner and it’s only a matter of time until the proverbial other shoe drops.
The laughing-through-the-pain theme continues with “And All You Can Do Is Laugh”. Thorburn and company are in fine form here as they roll out a song that sounds like something John Lennon (the most cynical of the Beatles) might have gladly added his stamp of approval to for its inclusion on Rubber Soul. “Headlines” includes a lovingly moving piano breakdown wherein Thorburn, backed by “ahs”, rhymes amenable with petrochemical. The piano returns to take center stage for “Hard to Argue”, an ephemeral piece that occurs just before And That’s Why Dolphins’… halfway mark and features some of Thorburn’s most beautiful vocal work, his words at one point soaring as he sings, “Sometimes you do, say all of the things that I want to.”
The album’s second half opens with “Pelican”, an oddly spooky track wherein a Moog is used to create an eerie effect. Here, Thorburn likens himself to a pelican that utilizes its pouch to “keep it in”. The balladic “Bite My Tongue” sees Islands downshifting into a slow groove you could imagine being played at a high school dance in the early nineties. Islands lean into the track’s retro feel by including an appropriate-sounding saxophone solo by Casey Butler during “Bite My Tongue’s” last half minute.
And That’s Why Dolphins Lost Their Legs remains in the slow lane tempo-wise for both “Violet” and “Too Far Gone”. It isn’t until the album’s final track, a song titled “Up the Down Staircase”, that the record returns to something akin to the cheerfulness of its earliest tracks. “I was lost, I was down, then I walked up, and I was found,” Thorburn sings in an atypically hopeful moment during “Up the Down Staircase’s” finale. Casey Butler’s sax returns here, offering up a confident solo that adds a pleasantly rosy flourish to the entire project. And That’s Why Dolphins Lost Their Legs is a journey that takes the listener through the emotional ups and downs of life but ultimately leaves its audience feeling optimistic. Islands’ ninth studio album is an introspective ride that does a good job of balancing fun with thoughtfulness.