Best of 2011

Posted in Music on January 1st, 2012 by Tom

My best of 2011 is all done, though a tad bit late. Apologies.

It was a good year for the blog though, with some 40-odd posts, nearly all music related, making this the year to beat in terms of content production. It’s still a little unevenly paced still, but we made it through the year without any huge gaps in updates, which I’m quite proud of!

Without further ado, I have linked to the big list of the top albums of 2011. Below, for purposes of aggregation, is my Hype Zeitgeist widget.

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On The Water

Posted in Music on November 24th, 2011 by Tom

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:

‘Before The Bridge’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

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:

‘Where I Found You’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

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.

Future Islands – On The Water


Best of 2010 Errata, Vol. 2: Future Islands

Posted in Music on August 22nd, 2011 by Tom

After stumbling upon Future Island’s 2010 effort In Evening Air only 48 hours ago, I already have realized it belongs among the Errata of my ‘Best of 2010’ list.

What prompted this investigation was hearing so much buzz in the music blog circuit about Future Islands, culminating with the post over at my new favorite blog, The Wounded Jukebox. So I figured I might as well look into it and pulled up Future Islands on Spotify (which I should probably do a post on in and of itself; suffice to say it is useful as hell).

In Evening Air had me captivated in only a few mintues. It’s been said countless times, but merits repeating: the utterly bizarre timbre of Samuel T. Herring’s voice is captivating to say the least. Apparently the group also kills live, but I’ll need to get back to you on that. The most accessible, and thus far my favorite, track of the album is ‘Tin Man‘.

‘Tin Man’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Opening with the whimsical electronic marimba, the percussion is sparing and synthetic, but that’s because most of the rhythm comes from the synthesizers and the bass (though for the life of me I can’t really say which is which). On the first few listens, the lyrics are damn near indecipherable, and initially that’s fine because the pure emotion behind the track is more than enough to carry it.

After a few listens though, along with a peak at the liner notes, reveals a lyrical styling that seems as wise as it does cryptic:

And time – goes by
And you’ve got a lot to learn, in your life
And the heart’s not inside
And I’ve got to find the one that’s just right

The title track is a minute-long interlude of a sparse melody whose echoes seem to bounce of the walls, and the placement of which marks a nice halfway point in the album.

One thing I’ve noted about almost all the tracks is that even if they aren’t aggressive, punchy numbers, nothing’s really all that slow. I really appreciate that, because I seldom care for tracks by synth-heavy bands that assume a slow track instantly grants them a certain automatic degree of emotional gravitas.

Future Islands provides a spectrum of tunes that vary in tone but not in intensity; tracks that sacrifice pace more than make up for it in depth. It’s this attribute that provides the glue that really holds the record together.

My second favorite track is the opener, ‘Walking Through the Door’, whose closing stanza of

And I’ll hold your hand- as I walk you through that door
And I’ll hold your hand as you held my hand as I walk you through the door

Is executed so well that I won’t even ruin it for you here. Find the track and listen to it and love it.

The last thing I want to share today is one of the later tracks, titled ‘Vireo’a Eye‘. What struck me about this song was how completely forlorn it’s message is despite being housed in a no-nonsense synth-pop framework.

‘Vireo’s Eye’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The bass line is unrelenting, propelling you through the narrative, with the vocals cresting at the chorus, lamenting

We, we’re not kings here.
We’re not kings here.
We’re just strangers.

There’s nothing frilly to it, but it has a pure, almost refined quality to it. Along with that, it’s a melancholy tune with such a catchy beat that I can’t help but find it one of the most interesting of the batch.

By my reckoning, Future Islands still owes their highest highs to New Order and that band’s immediate contemporaries and progeny. That said, the road taken to get to those places is entirely new and worthwhile unto itself, making this album a must for anyone remotely interested in that flavor of “post-wave” or whatever we’ve decided to call it.

I’m excited to spend more time with In Evening Air as well as On The Water when it drops later in October, something I have no doubt will be discussed here in due time as well.

Future Islands – In Evening Air