Islands: A Sleep and a Forgetting (ANTI-)

Only a heartless pustule or jaundiced cynic would actively cheer for heartbreak. Still, the history of popular music teaches that albums inspired by heartbreak are often a prickly sort of brilliant.

Recording in the immediate shadows of a breakup, Nick Thorburn sutures his grief and quirky pop tendencies onto the breakup-album format. The result, A Sleep and a Forgetting, is an indelible work of lush, jangly and lugubrious balladry. From the lulling, tropical hush of opener "In a Dream It Seemed Real," to the piano turbulence and psychedelic flare of "Hallways," to the stuttering beats and abject surrender of closer "Same Thing," this is a nakedly alluring work.

A Sleep and a Forgetting remains of a piece with Thorburn's oeuvre (from the Unicorns to the Human Highway) of casual surrealism. "Never Go Solo" ties musical composition and group disunity with a romantic breakup; the swaying lullaby "No Crying" works on the guiding metaphor of crying as music; and the tooting stomp of "Can't Feel My Face" weaves in a playful meta-comment ("I lost my love / It brought me solo / As described above").

Despite its brief running time, Islands' fourth album is a bounty of mini-treasures. Be it the slight hum and wavy melodies of "Lonely Love" or the dusty acoustics of "Oh Maria," there is not a wasted moment.

Even the most-hardened heart could (and should) wither a bit when hearing the steely, mournful guitar lines on "Don't I Love You" or the soulful, gutting beauty of "This Is Not a Song" ("Nick, if you ever learn / It never shows").