Sleep

Indie rock group Islands has risen to prominence since it released its debut, Return to the Sea, in 2006. The group’s soft, melancholic sound compliments its name: wavy, reverberated guitars rock back and forth, swallowing a shore of softly-hit drums and crescendoing vocal harmonies.

For Islands’ latest album, A Sleep & A Forgetting, leading man Nicholas Thorburn lays his love life on the line, resulting in one of the group’s most personal albums to date. Although Thorburn’s rise to indie success has been achieved through both Islands and indie rock supergroup Mister Heavenly, which features actor Michael Cera (the guy plays an instrument after all), it seems that not even the frontman’s accomplishments can save him from himself.

“This record deals with loss, with memory and forgetting and with dreaming,” explains Thorburn on ANTI-, the label that represents the group. As soon as album opener “In A Dream It Seemed Real,” a depressing introduction to Thorburn’s misery, begins, the listener realizes early on that the group’s sob story is not the perfect accompaniment to a romantic Valentine’s Day — that is, unless you’re celebrating a relationship gone unquestionably awry.

“Open up your door for me,” croons Thorburn desperately, his somber pleas guided by mournful piano and ascending harmonies. “In a dream it seemed real,” sings Thorburn; the song ends abruptly as if to represent the frontman waking up from a beautiful dream turned nightmare.

“Can’t Feel My Face” is an ode to 1950s doo-wop heartbreak. Church organs ring vibrantly in the background as Thorburn tries to disguise his lament with a roaring vocal delivery.

The album closes with “Same Thing,” a beautifully dark narrative that epitomizes Thorburn’s pessimistic revelation. “I loved a girl and I will never love again / there is no one in this world I could never love again,” sings Thorburn, his hopelessness contagious to the listener. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Thorburn just broke down crying at the end of the song, drowning the atmospheric piano and electronic percussion that looms in the background.

These songs, like most of the others on the album, serve as the building blocks to Thorburn’s recovery. It’s not really about the music; Thorburn’s confessional delivery is at the forefront of the album and nothing is withheld. Thorburn courageously goes for the sadness-is-bliss approach, leaving his future in question as he lies silently in a corner reminiscing on what could have been.

This is why A Sleep & A Forgetting resonates: It doesn’t opt for the easy way out, looking towards brighter and better days. It’s more realistic, forcing listeners to endure the nostalgic pains of failed love and the sluggish, lethargic, I-hate-the-world-and-the-world-hates-me demeanor that comes with it.

The album can be redundant, though: Laying all of the contents of his failed relationship on the line, the subject matter doesn’t change much and the music that accompanies it mostly stays soft and stagnant, never outshining the lonely star it’s backing.

A Sleep & A Forgetting is here for a simple reason: to lend a helping hand to those lost in love’s unyielding bind. It’s sad — very sad — but reminds us that sometimes you have to hide in the dark for a little bit before rediscovering the light.

Printed on, Tuesday February 14, 2012 as: Islands' record evokes post-breakup emotion

Music Monday

Sleep Over is Christa Palazzolo, Stefanie Franciotti and Sarah Brown — three 26-year-olds who came together in October to start conceptualizing what would become one of Austin’s crown jewels of the underground. Though still in its infancy, the group’s music stands out as a promising precursor to some upcoming releases, including a 7-inch split in June with like-minded musicians Pure Ecstasy on the Light Lodge label.

Sleep Over’s music is hard to classify — on “Fog Juice,” a mostly instrumental track that recalls Pocahaunted’s Peyote Road and the mania in a Diamanda Galás track, howling guitars fill the negative space as a slow, primal drum beat pulses. And on “The Key,” Palazzolo’s reverberant vocals stand out in the hauntingly beautiful chorus, as does the cosmic dissonance in the wall of sound behind her voice.

The Daily Texan sat down with Sleep Over to discuss ankhs, the group’s experience at South By Southwest and their prior bands.

The Daily Texan: So, what kind of gear are you using?

Stefanie Franciotti: We use an AX60 keyboard, an AX80 keyboard, a bass and a guitar.
Christa Palazzolo: The setup is still pretty fresh, and we’re still thinking about incorporating new elements.

So, how did Sleep Over come together?

CP: We started in October.
SF: More like December.
CP: Yeah, we came together last October, but we just started recording material in December. We kind of were just hanging out. At that time, her other band shared a practice space with a bunch of other bands, and we would get drunk in the freezing cold. [laughs]

What was your band?

SF: Silver Pines.
CP: And a couple of other bands played there, and Sarah and I have known each other for a long time.
SF: They’ve known each other since they were tweenagers.
CP: And we’re good friends with the drummer in Silver Pines. So, I guess that’s how we met.

Did you guys grow up here in Austin?

Sarah Brown: Yeah, we went to middle school and high school here.

Which high school?

SB: Bowie.
SF: [laughs]

[to Stefanie] I noticed you’re wearing an ankh, would you mind talking about it?

SF: I’m Egyptian.

Really?

SF: No.

I also kind of find it surprising you guys started in October — kind of serendipitous, given the kind of music Sleep Over makes. But October is my favorite month.

SF: Mine, too.

What was the first song you guys made together?

SF: “The Key.”

And Sleep Over played a few times during South By Southwest right? How did that go?

CP: It was great.
SF: We were kind of maxed out. Next year, I’d like to just cruise, you know?
CP: Yeah, I think we played a little too much this year, and we didn’t get to see the bands we wanted to.
SF: Well, in some cases we got to play with the people we wanted to see, which was cool.

Like who?

SF: Pocahaunted.
CP: Sun Araw, Speculator.
SF: Pure Ecstasy, Ged Gangras.
CP: [Stefanie’s] biggest influence is probably Cocteau Twins.

Oh, yeah? Can you recommend a good Cocteau Twins album for someone who hasn’t listened to too much of them?

SF: Garlands. Blue Bell Knoll.
CP: I think, creatively too, we are inspired a lot by what our friends are doing. Which people should do, you know — draw from each other.

Are there any bands besides Silver Pines that you girls are associated with?

SF: Belaire. [points to Christa]

Wait, what? You’re in Belaire?

CP: Yeah, with Cari, my twin sister. She lives with us, too. She’s the lead singer.

Oh, no way. [laughs] That’s weird. So what have you been listening to lately?

SB: I haven’t changed the songs in my iPod for months. I’ve been listening to Survive a lot lately.
CP and SF: Yeah!

Ironically, I’ve been listening to Suicide quite a bit lately. There’s a song called “Frankie Teardrop” that blows my mind.

CP: I’ve been listening to a lot of dub and reggae.

Did you do Marleyfest?

CP: No. [laughs]
SF: I’ve been listening to a lot of Franco Battiato, Les Rallizes Dénudés.

Oh, awesome, I love Les Rallizes Dénudés — but their stuff is so hard to find.

SF: They regrouped to play South By last year, but I unfortunately did not get to see it.
CP: And there’s that really dark stuff, that Italian label.
SF: That’s the Italians Do It...

...Better. Yeah I love that label. They have, what, the Chromatics, Glass Candy on there. A lot of dark Italo-disco. How many songs have you guys made so far?

CP: We have four that came out on a tape EP.
SF: Night People put it out.
CP: That just came out last month. But we have a couple of 7-inches coming out soon, also.

Who’s putting it out?

CP: We can’t leak it just yet, but we’re recording next week. And hopefully, there’s an LP in the future.

Let’s talk about movies for a little bit. This is a weird question, but can you each tell me one movie that describes your music? Does that make sense?

CP: Yeah!
SF: Maya Deren’s experimental shorts. Some people say she died of a voodoo curse. Her films are really dreamy.
CP: Not much verbal dialogue. It’s so beautiful ... limited music.

What other movies do you all like?

SF: “The Thing”!

Which was that one again?

CP: Kurt Russell — a total hottie — and a bunch of dudes stranded in Antarctica.
SF: And I just saw “The White Ribbon” by Michael Haneke.
CP: And “The Piano Teacher.” Have you seen it?

No.

CP: Don’t watch it. [laughs] It’s fucked up...

I want you each to pick one word to describe your music.

SF: “Lunar.”
CP: Mine is “alpha.”

I noticed that word on your MySpace — you called yourselves “alpha femmes,” if I’m not mistaken. There are a lot of these little symbols floating around in Sleep Over. What’s the meaning behind that?

SF: Wingdings are coming back, dude.
SB: My word ... “puppies.”

But going back to first impressions, I’m kind of surprised how sweet you girls are, considering how tortured and dark your music can sound.

CP: Those are the current vibes.

That’s why I was so surprised when you said you were in Belaire — Sleep Over is the total opposite, it seems.

SF: I think all of our experiences in music have really kind of brought us where we are, and we’ve all definitely brought different things to the table.

[to Sarah] Were you in any bands before Sleep Over?

SF: Yeah, she was. She played bass in high school.
SB: So awful. [laughs]

Okay, this is a really cheesy question, but could you describe your perfect day in Austin?

CP: Aw, that’s a nice question. I like that.
SB: Projecting a movie on the living-room wall. We just got a projector, and we’ve been watching a ton of movies on it.
CP: If it’s a perfect day, I would not be waking up early.
SF: I would! I would make some breakfast.
CP: I’d be drinking mimosas or beer.
SF: And lox and bagels. And we’d jam! Straight jam all day.
CP: Swimming in Barton Springs.

What kind of beer?

CP: Lone Star. It’s my staple.

That’s the best cheap beer, in my opinion.

CP: And there’s a lot of pride that goes behind it.

Okay, another weird question. How would each of you describe your perfect sandwich?

CP: I got this: It would be a 12-seed bread with mayonnaise, regular mustard, provolone, some Swiss, turkey, avocado, alfalfa sprouts and spinach. And now, I’m hungry. [laughs]
SB: Honestly, when I think about my favorite sandwich, if I could have my perfect sandwich, it’d be cheap white bread and peanut butter and jelly.
SF: Arugula, prosciutto, tomatoes, some feta ... on focaccia bread.

Last question. Top three albums of all time?

SF: Les Rallizes Dénudés, Heavier Than a Death in the Family. Franco Battiato, Energy. And then Cocteau Twins, Garlands.
CP: I think Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

Yes! I play Fleetwood all the time on Hole in the Wall’s jukebox.

CP: There’s a lot of female vocalist-led bands I like — Cranberries. And I’ve been listening to a lot of The Byrds.
SB: And you’ve been listening to a lot of Alton Ellis. Me, I’ve been listening to Paul Simon, Graceland. Neil Young, Harvest Moon. The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

[to Christa] I notice you have a pretty amazing tattoo on your forearm.

CP: This feather? Little piece of spiritual independence.

At first, I thought I saw the Virgin Mary.

CP: Yeah, the sunburst behind it draws from the Virgin of Guadalupe’s. By the way, I feel like I’ve met you before.

I feel like we’ve crossed paths before, too. [laughs]