Personal playlist: Islands’ Nick Thorburn on songs ruined by love


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Maybe, wonders Islands’ Nick Thorburn, he needs a therapist. Instead, he has a new album. His Valentine’s Day release, ‘A Sleep & A Forgetting,’ is the latest addition to the never-ending library of rock ‘n’ roll breakup albums. ‘I miss my own bed and my old life,’ he sings at the album’s mid-point, not leaving much to the imagination.

‘A Sleep & A Forgetting’ is classic pop at its most fragile. There’s fuzzy, garage rock keyboards in ‘Can’t Feel My Face,’ but the forlorn vocals keep the mood far from celebratory. The ballads are full of space, often marked by a slow-burning and redemptive piano, and tracks such as ‘No Crying’ are folk-pop shaded with vintage soul.


‘The idea,’ Thorburn said of the album. ‘was to get super stark by the end. I wanted there to be no hope.’

The brokenhearted can gather for a record-release party/commiseration gala tonight at the Bootleg Theater. The Canadian-born Thorburn, who’s also working on a comic, ‘This Is Howie Doo,’ recorded ‘A Sleep & A Forgetting’ in Los Angeles. Getting so personal, he said, wasn’t easy.

‘I really wrestled with this,’ he said. ‘In the early draft of the songs, I kept trying to cloak the meaning in more obtuse metaphors. I had to fight with myself to be as honest as possible. I was in a vulnerable and raw emotional state. It wasn’t calculated, like, ‘I need to convey this to affect more people.’ It was just feeling insincere and fraudulent. I felt like I should be as honest as I could without boring people to death.’

With today being Valentine’s Day, Pop & Hiss asked Thorburn for something of a lonely-hearts playlist. What follows, essentially, are four songs Thorburn associates with love-gone-bust.

‘They’re songs that are sort of sacred,’ he said. ‘I don’t seek them out. These are all songs that are evocative of my feelings of a time when relationships went south.’

• Kate & Anna McGarrigle, ‘Heart Like a Wheel.’ ‘I’m such a sad sack. I really go after these melancholic and sad songs. Linda Ronstadt popularized this, but this is the saddest song in the world. It’s about realizing that you love someone but you can’t be with them. It’s the most tragic thing ever. The harmonies are incredibly beautiful.


‘It popped up around a time when there was definitely strife, and I clung to this song like a life raft. I get as much pleasure and satisfaction from sharing grief rather than looking for guidance or a way out. I’d rather be miserable with the rest of them.’

• Mazzy Star, ‘Fade Into You.’ ‘This goes back into being a teenager and having my heart broken. A girl made me a mixtape with this song on it. I would listen to it on repeat, and when she broke my heart, that song became a really sore spot. I don’t listen to it anymore. Also, it’s kind of dated. ‘

• The Troggs, ‘With a Girl Like You.’ ‘This was a song I bought the 7 inch of when I was turning 24 or 25 and was in Montreal. I had a birthday party and I played this song. By 4 a.m., it was just me and a couple of other friends. By 8 a.m., the neighbors were banging on our door begging us to stop. For that entire four-hour period, we listened to this song. I’m not exaggerating. We actually broke the 7 inch because we listened to it on repeat.

‘This is a song that I can only listen to very carefully. This was right around the time I started dating the person who this new album is about, so this song was a landmark. It’s tied to the relationship. Now, it occupies this strange space because of its relationship to my girlfriend and the fact that I never need to hear it again. It is a great song, though.’

• The Chet, ‘The Cloak.’ This wasn’t a song I couldn’t listen to. This was a song I swarmed to. It’s super obscure, though, but this really is the best band you’ve never heard of. It’s these guys from Victoria, Canada, who never broke. The singer has this crazy range. His chromatic palate is really impressive. He can slide through octaves in such a musical, pretty way, all while staying in tune.

‘It’s a very pretty sad song. I was on tour and had a breakup on tour. I listened to it a lot so I could drown in it. I didn’t want to think about anything else and just wanted to feel the way I was feeling, which was terrible. The song shouldered some of the burden.’



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-- Todd Martens