The Unicorns are one of those bands that everybody seems to remember for one album and one album alone: Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? It’s a must listen and one of the most beloved albums for many, many people. Unfortunately, right around 2003/2004, the band broke up under the incredible stress of fame and touring.
Cut to 2005, Nick Thorburn of The Unicorns finds himself in a new band called Islands. The band consistently releases good music and just like that it’s 2013 and the band is preparing to release their fifth album: Ski Mask. Islands has poured a lot of energy into this new album and it shows. Each song is loveable in it’s own way. Press play and you quickly find yourself in a wonderland of music.
Ski Mask starts off strong. “Wave Forms” features a few piano chords, a growing bass lick, and some soft vocals. The song quickly evolves into a series of cheerful yet melancholic melodies and sentimental lyrics. The most notable part of the song is the strong presence of just raw, pure, instrumentation. There’s a synth part in there, sure, but the band sounds clean. From singer’s falsetto to the entire percussive range (really, there’s a bit of marimba in this one along with a set). The instrumentation is just something that other bands seem to lack today, and Ski Mask is a lovely break from the effect-crazy music of today.
There’s no doubt that Islands is a seriously skilled band with an amazing talent for composing. The real shocker comes as you progress through Ski Mask. Simply put, the album has a lot of variation while remaining carefully unified. “Nil” may have some questionable, hee-haw, off beat sound to it, but “Hushed Tones” is like a modern indie hit, and “Shotgun Vision” is a genius blues-rock piece. Throughout each song the band manages to maintain their own sound however. They sound uniform, and each song flows together well.
Not so good, Ski Mask suffers that good ol’ “nothing to see here folks,” symptom. There’s no breakthrough moments, and that’s a bummer. Everybody is going to find a song they love on this album, it doesn’t matter who you are. Unfortunately, nobody is going to look back and say, “Hey remember that one song off Ski Mask?!” This isn’t to say all the hard work went to waste though. When digital music stores first opened, everyone rejoiced, “I’ll no longer have to buy all twelve songs just to get the one I like!” This isn’t the case. Ski Mask is filled with great music, albeit a little lacking at times.
Let’s get back to praising Ski Mask. It’s rare you get to hear music this well composed today. Islands genius plays song after song that will consume the listener whole, forcing them to tap their foot, bob their head, and maybe even sing along when they get the chance. No Ski Mask isn’t a masterpiece but it’s so good, there’s no way you can dislike it.
A final note; the band has some huge expectations. Nick Thorburn has a history of making amazing music. As I said before, The Unicorns were sort of a one hit wonder, and the man has managed to set his own bar pretty high. But let’s disregard comparisons. Islands’ newest album, Ski Mask, is totally freaking awesome.