Rockscope - Islands @ The Middle East - May 25, 2008 - Cambridge, MA
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Islands @ The Middle East

May 25, 2008 - Cambridge, MA

By Vicky Zeamer

Photos By Vicky Zeamer ( )


Contrary to what singer and lyricist Nick Thorburn - formerly known as Nick Diamonds - said, the crowd's faces glowed with sheer joy as the indie rock with a tang of folk band Islands brought sunshine to the The Middle East downstairs in Cambridge Massachusetts.

Sitting in a corner of the venue with a cup of ice held to my head, my heart was racing at an unimaginable rate. It was either the irregularity of my health or perhaps the adrenalin anticipating the Islands set. I was desperately hoping for the latter and that their live show would be a magical experience in which I’d be swept off my feet into another world of sweeping and imaginative choruses.

“You know when someone farts in a room and you can’t identify it, like that kind of scrunched up face. Then there’s that face, it varies from row to row, some people will look like they are orgasming, and others will look angry,” says Thorburn regarding the audience’s faces when they play. “As long as their booty's shaking, it's all good.”

Islands released their newest album on May 20th called Arm’s Way, and already the crowd was rocking back and forth to the rhythm and cheering on with the choruses.

Songs like “In the Rushes” and “Vertigo” stick out to Thorburn as personal favorites. “Well, for different reasons, I’d have to say Vertigo is a really good example of musicianship arrangements with the band.” He says humbly but with a spark of pride coming through in his voice, “It’s very complex and involved and if I may say so, very stunning and powerful.”

“In the Rushes” has an echoing presence with deep hitting vocals and violin picking that makes the listener feel as if it was a leaking ceiling as the chorus acts as a storm. As the song progresses, it becomes more upbeat and accepting of the break-up that's described. “[It] is a good lyrical substantive example,” Thorburn explains.

Although Islands may seem like a newer band, having just released their second album, some of the members have been mixing magical creations of the audio form as the band The Unicorns. This former project sounds rawer and more electronically driven as the newer Islands songs.

As soon as the beats were laid to the song Creeper the fans clapped and began swaying their bodies to the new and yet familiar tune. The song’s monstrous tones and whispered layered vocals made it feel like it came right out of an old dancing skeleton in a horror movie.

“…It’s pretty literal. It would be pretty shitty if you were home alone and someone broke in and you were listening to that, it would suck.”

Islands songs tend to be very illustrative and instill odd images into the listener. In the song “Rough Gem” off of their first album Return to the Sea, the dark side of the diamond industry is told in almost the opposite tone with lines like “You can scoop out my brain / Shape it into an ear and tell me your pain.” The bouncy keyboard and bright violin mix together to create the feeling of being on a space ship at zero gravity.

“A lot of these are just metaphors, it’s not like I was actually in a car crash, I mean I was, but it’s not about that. I’m not actually an evil person, it’s just a feeling that came over me.” Thorburn addresses some of the darker themes on the new record, “I just use these themes to, you know, make a point about something abstract and mysterious.”

Thorburn also acknowledges, “If people are going to take everything literally, that’s their problem.”

The sound radiating from the stage appears bigger than the six people making it. The sound waves wrap you up into a blanket of energy and emotion. A festival for the both the eyes and ears is a pathetic attempt to sum up their live show.

“Gosh, that’d be a bold statement if I were to say,” Thorburn replies to the statement that their show differs from others, “I like to think that there is but it’s one of those intangible mystical things that I can’t really put my finger on. You can’t explain it in words it’s just one of those things that’ll either hit you or you won’t. We aim to do that.”

The Islands show hit me, it hit me hard. J'aime vous voir revenir, Islands.

-Vicky Zeamer (

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