Hailing from the coastal town of Baltimore, the band Future Islands boasts a decidedly nautical mood on their latest album, the aptly titled On the Water. Utilizing whiny synthesizers and echoey drum sounds, this trio formulate a sound that can often times be quite challenging, in spite of the seeming simplicity of its structure.
The title track, for instance, starts the album with sounds of a blustering day banging wind chimes to and fro before a Flock of Seagulls-esque drum and bass pattern begins to fade in. Before long, lead singer Samuel T. Herring is crooning into the microphone, carrying a vocal style that sounds like the strange love child of Ian Curtis and Tom Waits.
Soon, those synths kick in before the whole thing builds to a wall of guitar fuzz, a la Jesus and Mary Chain. But Future Islands isn’t all about homage. They boast a unique sound that manages to sustain a number of different ideas without sounding too cluttered. On The Water is a quick 10 tracks, but despite its pithiness, there’s enough meat on the bone to ensure repeat listens.
Those listening to the band for the first time can instantly glean two things: Future Islands love 1980s music, and Herring isn’t afraid to put his unconventional vocal stylings on full display.
Nor should he be. While it certainly takes some getting used to, Herring has a unique presence as a frontman and a lyricist. He has a surprisingly deep perspective on life, which is evident on the song “Give Us the Wind” when he proclaims, “We set out to find something to hold/In seeking truth, the answer is the road.”
With its sweeping chorus and ethereal keyboard sounds, “Give Us the Wind” is both the album’s best track and a perfect summation of everything that makes On the Water a great record: introspective lyricism coupled with intriguingly subdued textures.
Occupying the space between yacht rock and ’80s new wave, songs such as “Before the Bridge,” “The Great Fire” and “Tybee Island” might sound indulgent in isolation, but in the context of the album, they stand out as concise and endearing songs that manage to build toward ideas of deconstruction.
Even “Close to None,” a six-minute tune that begins laconically, reaches a spirited conclusion as inspired as any album cut in the band’s entire catalog. The song bleeds into the next track, “Balance,” with the soothing sounds of ocean water before transitioning.
Although they might be few and far between, the album’s weaker moments tend to be glaring. Most notably, the running interludes of ocean sounds that bookmark a number of the songs tend to take away from an album that’s already enough of an experience on its own. For a band called Future Islands playing an album called On the Water, there’s no need to push the thematic elements any further.
But these are admittedly trivial disparities. In virtually every other facet, the album is a sonically advanced piece of pop, filled with bright ideas and endearing musicality.
Future Islands – On the Water tracklist:
- “On the Water”
- “Before the Bridge”
- “The Great Fire”
- “Where I Found You”
- “Give Us the Wind”
- “Close to None”
- “Tybee Island”