A song about boll weevils is nothing new. The “boll weevil” song, not attributed to any single author, has been passed around in the folk and blues tradition for many years and has existed in American recorded music for more than a century, starting with Ma Rainey’s “Bo Weavil Blues,” recorded in 1923. Charley Patton and Lead Belly recorded their own “boll weevil” songs in 1929 and 1934, respectively, the latter of which became quite well known and inspired variations from Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Eddie Cochran, Tex Ritter, and countless others, each embodying their own style and lyrical differences to varying degrees.

Commenting on the creative process behind “Boll Weevil,” Nick Thorburn of Islands shared, “As a rare formalist exercise, I tried my hand at writing a “boll weevil” song, using the motif not to write a song about agricultural scarcities, but about another great device of rock & roll, blues, and R&B: romantic courtship. We aimed to capture something trashy and bluesy in the R&B garage rock tradition of bands from the 1960s, so I knew this song had to be recorded completely live. We did it in one take without headphones, as the band played together in a room, letting the drums and amps bleed into each other.:

“Boll Weevil” follows pre-release singles “The End” and “Drown A Fish,” which Thorburn describes the track as a dive into the complexities of human interactions, drawing inspiration from The Three O’Clock, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, and Kiwi Jr.

What Occurs is Islands’ tenth album in 19 years marks a significant departure, with the band embracing a live-off-the-floor approach that strips away extensive layers in favor of a raw, unmediated sound. The record was produced entirely by the band during the summer of 2023, and mixed by acclaimed producer Colin Stewart (New Pornographers, Destroyer) later that year. This marks Islands’ first Canadian-made record since their debut album, Return to the Sea, in 2006.

Reflecting on the creative process behind the album, Nick Thorburn shares, “For the first time, we went in cold… I brought in the music and we learned it sitting together in the room. And then we hit record. Decisions had to be made very quickly.” The result is a collection of songs that capture the raw spontaneity of a band that has honed their craft over a decade, with each track offering a unique perspective and narrative voice.

There’s the lovelorn loser (“Drown A Fish”), the spellbound lover (“Tangerine”), and the doom scroller bracing for armageddon time (“What Occurs”). There’s the terrified idiot who thinks arachnophobia refers to a fear of snakes (“Arachnophobia”), and the kind soul who tries to let you down gently (“Sally Doesn’t Work Here Anymore”). We ride alongside the art thief who very nearly gets away with it (“David Geffen’s Jackson Pollock”), and bear witness to a liberation movement unfolding in real time (“Talk Is Cheap”). The songs’ narrators are afraid, outraged, turned on, and hopelessly in love, running from—and towards life & death and everything in between.

Stylistically, the songs range from the apocalyptic folk of “On the Internet” —with Thorburn showcasing his rarely featured baritone—to the druggy, Jupiter-4 synthesizer dream pop of “Sally Doesn’t Work Here Anymore.” The album opener and title track “What Occurs,” acts as a bit of misdirection, with a Penguin Cafe-esque piano plunking notes like a sequencer as it slow-burns towards a mandolin solo of all things.

From there, the album takes a quick left turn, with the up-tempo power pop earworm of “Drown A Fish.” “Arachnophobia” showcases the ’60s-inspired, Stax-style playing that guitarist Geordie Gordon excels in and the relentless salvo of angry guitar stabs on “Talk Is Cheap” contrast nicely with the chugging ‘70s soft rock electric piano stomp of “Move Some More.”

Despite facing challenges such as Thorburn’s ghastly basketball injury just one week before recording, the band persevered, channeling their passion and energy into every note. Recorded entirely in Thorburn’s home province of British Columbia, the album pays homage to his Canadian roots while pushing the boundaries of Islands’ signature sound.

Though currently based in Los Angeles, Thorburn was born and raised on Vancouver Island, where his first band The Unicorns got their start. There’s a sense of returning, but paradoxically, for the first time, as this is Thorburn’s first record made on the island.

“With recording [this record] entirely in my home province of British Columbia, I wanted to tap into my Canadian forebears a little bit. It’s subtle, but I wanted to acknowledge the greats that came before me, like Destroyer, Teenage Head, Nash the Slash, Rufus Wainwright, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, and of course Neil Young, Joni Mitchell & Leonard Cohen.”

SOURCE: Official Bio

Featured image by Jason Tippet.