The self-titled debut EP (or mini-album) from Nick Thorburn’s new project with hip-hop producer Daddy Kev was originally supposed to be called The Life Narcotic. The reason for the name change isn’t known, but you can’t help but feeling that title would have worked better: Reefer is best for that post-joint period between coughing and the comedown. The album’s 10 songs move at a glacial pace (thanks to Kev’s sparse, pre-programmed beats) and are awash in a drug-reminiscent haze (thanks to Thorburn’s ethereal vocals).
Reefer started when Thorburn and Kev met at SXSW and agreed that they needed to work together. But then the two hatched an interesting scheme: They’d record an album in a place that is completely different than their Montreal and Los Angeles homesteads. This led to recording sessions in Maui to create Reefer.
Even if you didn’t know the record was recorded in Maui, the ocean is ever-present on Reefer. Sounds of waves hitting sand and wind coming off the wake act as the intro and outro of nearly all of the tracks. Single “May Baleen” uses this effect to the best degree: Within the din of the opening ocean sample, a steel guitar rings out like a gull before a drum sample, evoking the movements of a sea horse, sets Thorburn up for his ocean-related death metaphors.
Like Islands’ last record, Reefer is slightly over-stuffed with inessential tracks that draw away from the truly great ones. The groovy bossa nova of “Body Heat,” the understated “Hit and Run,” and the epic sounding “Let It Go” are buried between exposition pieces (there are three musical interludes and two really unnecessary remixes). But fortunately, Reefer is so short (a hair over 30 minutes) that those pieces and the one true dud (the discordant and sloppy “Crony Island,” featuring Busdriver) never become too distracting.
Reefer is proof positive (like another of Thorburn’s projects, Human Highway) that Thorburn is capable of doing any kind of musical iteration that catches his fancy for the week he was recording the album, and doing it well. There’s no promise that there will ever be a Reefer full-length or a tour (or even a physical release for Reefer — it’s only out digitally), but that seems fitting. Reefer works best as a moment that’s fleeting.