NAME: Nick Thorburn (Islands, Human Highway)
PROGRESS REPORT: Recording Islands’ third LP at Stratosphere Studio in New York City; recording a solo LP, I Am An Attic at home; releasing a comic book, This Is Howie Doo, through Bodega Distribution.

Nick Thorburn fits the same overachieving Canadian trope that we’ve bestowed on Spencer Krug and Owen Pallet. But Thorburn’s a more self-conscious musician, one who satisfies his self-diagnosed ADD by feeding new ideas, playing with perceptions and expectations, caring a lot about what people think, then claiming to not care at all. He’s Twittering progress on the next Islands record. You might not realize from his cryptic Tweets, but he’s working very differently than he did last album around. “It’s a new configuration in line-up, and it’s electronic-based, with plenty of drum machine and programming,” he says. “[It's a very stripped down affair, with minimal instrumentation and sparse arrangements. This is not Arm's Way II."


Islands @ Cedar St., SXSW '08 [Photo by Amrit Singh]

Even the numbers around the recording are smaller: he is on day eight of recording with 10 days to go (though they are spending 16 hours a day in the studio). There will be 12 songs on the untitled album, (including “Vapours” “Everything Is Under Control” and “Disarming The Car Bomb”). Thorburn says the tracks are shorter than usual, and “most don’t even break the 3 minute mark.” Singles? “All singles.” Though he isn’t retreading Arm’s Way, Thorburn isn’t rejecting that work either. “I’m extremely proud of Arm’s Way and think it was gravely misunderstood. I just tend to naturally deviate from record to record,” he explains. “[But] I believe I retain my musical center in every project I do. I don’t ever set out to do something different, I just get so excited and influenced by so many different things.” Thorburn is changing album themes as well: though death has been a dominant idea from his Unicorns work onward, he’s written only one death song for the new album. Self-consciousness remains: Thorburn says song topics will include “teenage rebellion, lazy music critics, the underclass, trust, mistrust, and good old fashioned self-doubt.” He’s hoping the album will be humorous, or “playful” as was Islands’ Return To The Sea or even Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?. Wolf Parade’s Hadji Bakara is doing some additional programming long distance. Original Islander Jamie Tambeur, who contributed much to the sound and rhythm of Return To The Sea, is also back for this Islands record.

As promised, or expected, Thorburn has several other projects he’s juggling. He’s planning a second, acoustic LP with Islands this summer, as well as a tour with Human Highway in March. He’s halfway into recording a solo record, titled I Am An Attic: “It’s just a little thing in my bedroom.” He wants to release it for free, part of a New Year’s resolution to do more for people who like what he does. His comic book This Is Howie Doo will be out sometime this spring (you can see his comics here), and he’s also writing columns for Gavin McInnes’ Street Carnage blog. Right now he doesn’t have plans for another big charity project like 2005′s “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?” or last year’s NY Cares benefit, at least for now. “We raised a lot of cold hard cash, so if something good comes up, I’m always game.”

Here’s a rough mix of “Used To Be Funny,” a first listen from the forthcoming I Am An Attic.


Nick Thorburn & Drawing Buddy, Brooklyn 2007. Photo by Kate Perkins.

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If there’s a band you want Progress Report to drag out of the studio, or bed, for an update, shout out in the comments or e-mail tips@stereogum.com.

Comments (16)
  1. Who do I have to fight to get a progress report on the Rentals new album?

  2. jj  |   Posted on Jan 27th, 2009 0

    what about the snake the cross the crown? their last album was pretty stellar.

  3. daysrunaway  |   Posted on Jan 27th, 2009 0

    Request for a progress report: Could you do Kathryn Calder of Immaculate Machine/New Pornographers? I would really like to know what she is up to right now as I am a big fan of hers.

  4. crentist  |   Posted on Jan 27th, 2009 0

    I know a lot of people dissed on Arm’s Way because they felt it was a step away from Return to the Sea, but I dug it thoroughly. The only gripe I had with it was that the songs were almost too long. There were awesome hooks on that album, but I felt they were lost in the shuffle with the expanse of the record. I am jazzed that he’s making the songs more concise, because the new album could jam hard.

  5. matt  |   Posted on Jan 27th, 2009 0

    arm’s way was great. I think what people didn’t like about it is that no single song (except maybe creeper) stood out the way rough gem did. It’s an album that definitely needs to be listened to from start to finish. Thats my opinion anyways

  6. i thought arm’s way was awesome and most of my friends did too. i think it’s just because pitchfork gave it a bad review that people assume it was worse received than it really was.

  7. Fred  |   Posted on Jan 27th, 2009 0

    Progress report on Antelope? Pretty please?

  8. Evan  |   Posted on Jan 28th, 2009 0

    Wow, this is all fucking awesome news. So excited for a very Nick Thorburny year ahead!

  9. Sam  |   Posted on Feb 4th, 2009 0

    Arm’s Way would have been good if it was 20 minutes shorter. I agree that it needs to be listened to start to finish, but it isn’t the kind of album that I want to spend over an hour on

  10. you people are retarded for not liking arm’s way. It was the best album of the entire year (no shit) and basically every song is gold (the worst one is the one all the reviewers seemed to praise– in the rushes, probably because they “got” the who reference.)

    Want proof that you’re an idiot for not liking Arm’s Way? Think about it abstractly: everyone loves Nick’s Unicorns songs, and return to sea so there’s no sophomore slump. The new album drops and it gets negative press (from pitchfork) for not sounding enough like vampire weekend (! yes seriously go check) and everyone kind of ignores it. What’s more likely: you’re an idiot or…I can’t think of another explanation actually.

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