My love affair with Future Islands has been love-at-first-sound(listen?) ordeal. 2010’s In Evening Air was nothing short of a masterpiece, and it bordered on instant gratification that their newest album On The Water was being released only two months after I discovered the band.
It brings me great joy to report that the album does not disappoint in the slightest. Samuel T. Herring once again reprises his role as the most tortured, broken soul you’ve ever encountered, and the Baltimore trio is truly firing on all cylinders in many places on the record.
Whereas ‘In Evening Air’ was a thoughtfully placed instrumental segue, ‘On The Water’ is a fully-fledged, bold trudge of an introduction to the thesis of the album: Love, Loss, and Longing, served with a side of pelagic imagery.
Following immediately after is the pulsating ‘Before The Bridge‘, whose driving bass and soaring vocals, try though they might, can’t really mask the tragedy of the narrative:
And if things had changed
I would have buried you deep in my heart
And if things had stayed the same
I would have carried you as far as the sky
Whatever has us now
I can’t forget somehow
For to forget a love is to regret
And what is love is regret
And what isn’t love is a test
Following that, we hit a bit of a lull. ‘The Great Fire’ idles along, albeit with some pretty stellar vocal assistance from fellow Baltimorean and Wye Oak vocalist,Jenn Wasner, but the instrumental ‘Open’ is forgettable at best.
As evidence that I’m not biased against the slow tracks, gunning for my favorite on the album is ‘Where I Found You‘. Its melody, played by something of a digital marimba, is offset by a consistent thump of bass, eventually joined by mirroring percussion. I could go on and on about the themes and finer points of the lyrical choices, but it’s really better to just let the song speak for itself:
Up next is what I’d describe as the emotional center of the album. ‘Give Us The Wind’ is a warm, gutsy piece, where Herring’s normal despair takes on a bit of an edge; the mordancy of his ‘Don’t bless me / No, don’t bless me’ really giving the song the crucial bite it needs. It’s perhaps one of the more perfect songs I have heard in a very long time.
‘Close To None’ makes better use of ambling synth, and really kicks in at roughly the halfway mark to become easily the fastest song on the album yet. It is a solid song that makes ample use of the maritime images, and serves as a good setup for the gentler but similarly-paced ‘Balance’, which follows in similar suit.
Unfortunately then, we’ve got the really weird ending bundle of ‘Tybee Island’, ‘Grease’, and an untitled bit of ocean noise. I don’t mind the ocean noise, but I hardly ever get to it because the tracks preceding are… not bad, just really uninteresting. In comparison to their peers they seem to really drag, but you might enjoy them more than I.
Really though, it’s hard to complain. The 7 full tracks at the top of the album are evidence that Future Islands are the absolute best at what they do. This is one of the few albums to come along in 2011 that I can almost universally recommend, quite simply because it has been one of the year’s very best.