Future Islands – On the Water

Last year’s In Evening Air captured Future Islands’ frontman Samuel T. Herring in the ranting throes of a devastating breakup. On the Water doesn’t find Herring much happier, but he’s now pensively assessing the wreckage from a safer distance. On the Water is a less challenging record but it’s a more approachable one, and nearly as rewarding.

Future Islands stakes out terrain similar to Cold Cave, delving into the disquieting corners of ’80s synth/dance rock, and like those theatric-heavy revivalists the Baltimore trio has softened the edges for its latest release. Gerrit Welmers’ electronics now favor sleek, elegant lines over the wheezing contraptions of prior records. The effect recalls a more cerebral, pre-arena Depeche Mode, or the strands of Bauhaus’ catalog that haven’t been relegated to goth parody.

On the Water leaves more space for Welmers’ elegiac organ patterns and William Cashion’s guttural, New Order-esque bassline melodies. Still, a lot rides on one’s willingness to roll with Herring’s hyper-emotive vocals, an affect that’s two parts Tom Waits rasp to one part Peter Murphy croon. The aching “The Great Fire” features a duet with Jenn Wasner of Baltimore scene buddies Wye Oak, who rather than providing a lightening counterbalance seems drawn into Herring’s eerie abyss. Elsewhere, the ethereal “Tybee Island” offers a nod to the trio’s North Carolina origins, not to mention some oceanfront found sounds that contribute to the moody backdrop.

A year ago, Future Islands seemed like an idiosyncratic crew of road warriors. They’ve rapidly developed an intriguing arc, and have firmly established themselves as a band worthy of our attention.

Future Islands
On the Water
[Thrill Jockey]