When we first heard word of Islands’ forthcoming fifth album Ski Mask, it seemed like mastermind Nick Thorburn was in a quitting mood. Early taste “Wave Forms” found the prolific musician singing, “I won’t write another word after today.” Thankfully, for the new LP’s next share, he’s in fighting form. “Becoming the Gunship” is a pleasantly propulsive song featuring march-step drums and drifty malt-shop guitars, not to mention Thorburn’s increasingly smooth coo. That said, the words it employs are of a heavier fare, speaking on the hardened, if not weaponized, state of the heart following years of disappointment and rejection. The Unicorns founder spoke to SPIN.
“The first three lines in the song — ‘When it was dark / I was a question mark / Becoming the gunship’ — came to me in a dream,” Thorburn said. “I woke up and immediately wrote it down and held onto the piece of paper until I could flesh out its hidden meaning into a full song.”
As for that meaning? “The album plays on the nature of identity, death, and violence,” he continues. “Thematically, death is a mainstay for me. Usually though, it’s an inward-facing creative well I draw from. This album explores my more external thoughts about death and destruction and how I can influence my immediate world in both a positive and negative light. Instead of the passive vessel who experiences death, I acknowledge that I might have a more active hand in the overall process.”
It’s that tough stuff that’s inspired what may be Islands’ most diverse and upbeat album to date. Ski Mask is out September 17 on Thorburn’s own Manqué label.