Future Islands

On the Water

Thrill Jockey

Oct 11, 2011 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Future Islands' second album In Evening Air neatly sidesteps the clichéd sophomore slump via a quantum leap in sheer songwriting erudition and heightened band cohesiveness. The act's first Thrill Jockey album was more of a piece than their quasi art school project debut Wave Like Home, and On the Water continues this trend, raising the songwriting and production stakes, while retaining the sonic signatures so recognizable as Future Islands—singer Samuel Herring's theatrical, emotive belt; the braying synths and bass lines of William Cashion; and the metronomic drum machine patter that undergirds the entropic instrumental chaos.

Standout track "The Great Fire" is lent a smoldering, cabaret lilt courtesy of Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner. She plays the femme fatale foil to Herring's maudlin protagonist, as they dejectedly harmonize, "If you let me be there again/I won't say a word," over gurgles of casio and cinematic washes of synths, bringing to mind some of Brian Eno's mid-'70s experimental works.

Penultimate track "Tybee Island" opens as a raw, threadbare, near-a cappella number, with Cashion giving a catatonic resuscitation of, "No illusions, no replays, it's watching," over nothing but the sound of waves crashing, before a funereal organ bleeds in. Cashion proceeds to intone, "If my head slips beneath the sand," as the track wafts away as unobtrusively as it kicked in, like a beguiling reverie.

Closing number "Grease" blasts the memory of "Tybee Island" into oblivion. Like a rebirth by divine fire, it's a husky, plangent number, one that finds Cashion sounding utterly alive as he incants demonically, "What happens to youth? What happened to truth? What happens to me?" It's equal parts sepulchral and redemptive, spiritually recalling David Bowie's Heroes, and providing a triumphantly exhilarating close to this superb Baltimore act's best album to date. (www.future-islands.com)

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