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Future Islands – On The Water October 24, 2011

Posted by gwyoung in Album Reviews, Music.
Tags: , ,

Artist: Future Islands

Album: On The Water

Release: Thrill Jockey, 2011

Genre: New Wave

RIYD: New Order, Frog Eyes, pirates

I missed out on Future Islands’ stunning breakthrough album, In Evening Air, when it first came out early last year. It remained in the periphery of my musical radar, however, thanks to a (cokemachine)glowing review and a deserving spot high up on their best-of 2010 list, sitting on the backburner until just recently when I heard news of the leak of their new album, On The Water. And so, to prepare myself for the new release, I finally dredged the In Evening Air mp3s out of the depths of my external hard drive, synced my iPod, and listened through the whole record on repeat while at work. Of course, I immediately fell in love with the thing and my confusion as to why I had never listened to it earlier grew exponentially with each compelling listen. The band’s unique style, which combines New Order-like guitar and synth repetition with coarse, emotional vocals reminiscent of indie rock greats like Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse and Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes, meshed perfectly with my tastes, providing something at once refreshingly new and nostalgic for high-school rock of the past.

Needless to say, I was eager to find out what was in store for my ears on the newer album, as well as anxious to find out if their sound had changed at all in the past year between releases. When I finally loaded up the new one and gave it a listen a day later, I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. Most of the tracks seemed to lack the immediate hooks that pepper In Evening Air, opting for a more subtle and grandiosely emotional approach, complete with slow build-and-release and a more subdued, gentle crooning from vocalist Sam Herring. It didn’t quite catch me, and instead of pushing it further I retreated to the harsh grumbling and skittering synths of “Long Flight” and “Tin Man” off of the former.

But the more I listened to In Evening Air, the more I felt that I should give its successor another chance as the band just showed too much prowess to be able to make a let-down of an album. And, though it did take quite awhile to finally sink in, it was worth all of the patience in the end. On The Water is just as good as In Evening Air, it’s just good in a very different way. I’ve found myself appreciating the heightened diversity in the album’s sequencing, which moves from sentimental pirate balladry in songs like the title track and “Give Us The Wind” to a gorgeous duet with Wye Oak frontwoman Jenn Wasner on “The Great Fire” to the more bouncy and upbeat singles “Before The Bridge” and “Balance”, whose looping backbones rival the best of the electronic wizardry found in the band’s earlier material. The smooth transitions between tracks, including slow-burning introductions and soaring finales, provide more of a sense of a journey from the album’s beginning to end, showing a lot more maturity than In Evening Air in both soundscaping and songwriting. This doesn’t necessarily make it better, however, as a large portion of In Evening Air’s charm was its scrappiness and rugged edge, and a lot of that edge has been smoothed over in the new approach. But in the end, both records are equally great testiment’s to the band’s diverse talents, and I’m excited to hear which directions they’ll come at us from next.



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