Our Take: Private Island’s “Sunbreak” EP is a Coming-of-Age Treasure

Private Island 2016
Private Island is Christian Lum, Tommy Nickerson, Cameron Anderson, Michelle Guerrero, Tim Barbour and Roger Mawer

Mitch's Take

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Close your eyes while listening to Private Island and you will immediately be transported to another world, where waves of the purest blue kiss white sand beaches; where the sun’s limitless power beats down, an invigorating force that fuels your lifeblood. Bliss drips like honey from Private Island’s EP Sunbreak, but don’t let the exotic sounds of Southern California fool you into thinking life is paradise: The independent Los Angeles sextet’s sophomore release is a magical five-song exploration of love and possibility, of loss and helplessness, and of youth and maturity. Mixing illusions of tropical fantasy with heavy doses of reality, Private Island question their world and its players, colorfully capturing meaningful moments that we don’t mind reliving.

This has to be more than just an emotion
Does love feel like you’re running without your head?

Watch: “Drugs” – Private Island

One would expect a love song (of sorts) to employ recreational drugs as a metaphor for the magnetic lust and desire that pulls two beings together, but Private Island’s luscious EP entrance references “Drugs” only in name. Forcing us to consider the emotional state’s control over the physical being, “Drugs” is a first-person account of the handsome burden that befalls those with a lustful gaze. Rather than write the song with this in mind, however, Private Island seem to have started with their experiences and put the pieces together along the way, just as one does in real life.

Things won’t be the same when you get up and walk out the room
who knew
I’d even care at all, but it’s hard when all the oxygen leaves
when you do

 Your vibe is straight from a myth
A color new to exist
How’d you bend time and space?
Making life slower paced

This isn’t your average love song; in fact, “Drugs” isn’t much of a love song at all. It deals with love, for sure, but it’s far more a retelling of love’s trials and tribulations than it is a capitulation of praise. The song’s breakdown repeats the lines, “Please don’t make me go back to real life – it could be fatal,” a clear cry for help from someone learning just how complicated our feelings can become.

Case and point: Love is hard! It takes a certain level of courage and confidence to own up to humankind’s most convoluted emotion. The “Drugs” music video captures this sentiment, using a visual everyone can relate to: Young love – literally. A high school pool party at dusk; a boy and girl left to their own devices, exchanging whispers and glances. We feel goosebumps when the male follows his interest into the house, only to see her already kissing… him!?

One has to wonder if such an image breeds security or insecurity for the protagonist. Private Island use the full extent of their band to craft a warm, expansive sound that envelopes “Drugs” in harmony. Lush rhythms and velvety-sweet guitar licks set the sonic scene for songs to come.

Listen: “Trouble” – Private Island

Trouble” is simple, but fun; most songs about getting caught doing something wrong tend to follow an expected script. Justifications and explanations thread through a vague first-person testimonial, but the lyrically clever anecdotes are not immediately clear. Instead, what one hears beneath lead singer Christian Lum’s intimate vocals are an organ bursting with energy, a wet electric guitar echoing into the distance, and a bass guitar so expressive, it might as well take a swing at lead.

We all make mistakes
But is this one, you’ve made before
And will make again?
Do you still sleep at night
With all the tears you draw?
Or do they shower you in importance making your dreams?

I Know” is a teary-eyed dreamy haze. Slow and burning with conflicted feelings, Private Island’s accusation is filled more with hurt and anguish than it is anger or jealousy. “I know where you are headed,” protests the narrator… Only, it isn’t a protest. It’s reluctant acceptance of a truth too heartbreaking to be admitted at that moment in time. The euphemism is clear: I know where you are headed… away from me. Yet who among us has the gall to make such a statement? When stuck in conflict with a loved one, we turn our heads to the side and our eyes shift down to avoid the gaze of someone we cannot bear to see leave us for good.

Private Island 2016
Private Island is Christian Lum, Tommy Nickerson, Cameron Anderson, Michelle Guerrero, Tim Barbour and Roger Mawer

We need a moment to let open wounds heal into fresh scars after “I Know,” but Private Island continues their intense onslaught on “Seabass,” a hypnotizing philosophical journey through the mind and heart.

I spilled some salt on your coffee table
Against the paint, the grains seemed like the stars
But whats the difference? Luck don’t exist here anymore
It’s how you choose to view everything out of your control

I’m stuck here walking through desert sands for promise lands
Head back to the river running
This bread and water should be all I keep and all I need
Head back to the river running

Listen: “Seabass” – Private Island

If Sunbreak is Private Island’s coming-of-age EP, then “Seabass” represents a moment of clarity, growth, and acceptance. The tug-of-war game between childhood’s games and adulthood’s pressures seems to have ripped open a hole for the world-weary stargazers: Lum expresses a sense of responsibility – that he shouldn’t fret about things like love and loss, having come to terms already with “the fact” that life is a random chaos.

The internal war between impulse and levelheadedness curses the mind of every philosophizing twenty-something. You’re empowered to act sensibly, but with every new challenge, so much of you wants to throw your hands up in exasperation and say, “This is too much! Take me back to the ABC’s and building blocks.”

My pain would seem so small over the seas
So to complain would be so selfish now
But whats the difference? Luck don’t exist here anymore
It’s how you choose to view everything out of your control

Lyrically deep and immersing, “Seabass” is Private Island’s tipping point. If you were not convinced of the band’s sincerity, here they bear their souls on their sleeves. There’s a fine line between tastefully expressing growing pains and complaining about the world around you, and each time they’ve had the opportunity to go one way or the other, Private Island have taken the high road.

"Enough" - Private Island
“Enough” – Private Island

Sunbreak ends with the infectiously catchy “Enough,” whose unbearably honest chorus “Sometimes I hate you, ’cause I can’t get enough /  I can’t just simply have it all,” speaks to the soul in a very curious fashion. Impressively conclusive (for now), the song backpedals and drives off into the future, accelerating in both directions at once as if to show how far the band have come, and how much farther they have still to go. Uncertainty continues to cloud the narrator’s judgment; “Sometimes just a little’s enough / Maybe I’m just thinking too much,” sings Lum in the post-chorus drop amid ripping guitar lines.

Uncertainty typically rears its head as a weakness, but in Private Island’s case it feels right – in truth, the act of questioning everything is the best way for the band to encapsulate this EP experience.

A quintessential coming-of-age moment for the band, Sunbreak glistens with effortless grace as Private Island make their way through heavy feelings and tangled truths. Their hypnotic, mesmerizing alternative sound absorbs the heat of the summer and the weight of their worlds – but what can we take away, exactly? What does it mean for the sun to break?

Perhaps it’s a reference to the transition, like childhood to adulthood, from dusk to dawn: When the sun breaks across the horizon, filling the sky with its yellowish hues. The world awakens, groggy and bleary-eyed, slowly coming around from its slumbers to face the living day once more.

Private Island deliver more than anyone could have bargained for on their sophomore EP, proving without a doubt that they are worth the time and effort to get to know. Sunbreak is not the “promise of great things to come” from an up-and-coming indie act; instead, it is the treasure we never knew we wanted, but have now found.

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Sunbreak – Private Island

Sunbreak - Private Island
Sunbreak – Private Island

Private Island 2016 tour dates

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