Future Islands – On The Water

 “Time for the show / and the road is long and slow / and I’m rolling on,” expresses Samuel T. Herring, vocalist and lyricist of synthpop aficionados Future Islands, on their third record On The Water closer, “Grease”. Said ad infinitum before the track and whole album ebbs out, it captures how Future Islands consider music a process of catharsis, that there is still a concept of time as a passage from any lost loves, any damage or wounds – anything! – and it can be fully realised through music. It’s an unique atmosphere with their brand of poetry and how it paints the music, especially in comparison to other ‘synthpop’ bands that make pure dance tracks or dream pop.
Almost immediately, a lot of the ‘it takes time to heal’-empowered concept comes to the fore through Herring’s lyricism, which can play off like natural earthly beauty from the still of the night. Herring wails “And if things had changed / I would have buried you deep in my heart” on second track “Before The Bridge”, amongst talking about how the moons listen, and souls give. While the album’s organic lyrics touch on catharsis with grandiose images and gestures that sweep completely, it’s the subtleties of a damaged individual that really affect, evident in playful inflections of Herring’s voice that make him confidently sound like so many singers – from Destroyer’s lounge-like Dan Bejar or the Sunset Rubdown-era majesty of Spencer Krug or, even, Bowie in Space, the approach and delivery work. Even greater, the imagery of a damaged frontman is more potent on standout “The Great Fire” alongside Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, with its interchanging chorus-verse interplay.
But that isn’t to say the music itself is not note-worthy; it plays to perfectly backdrop the Hurting concept by inducing ideas of water in the many shapes and sizes that it can take form of. On title track “On The Water” for instance, the music starts off with an anthemic boom-boom-tsch over low-tempo water-drenched organs before culminating in a cascade of keys and reverbed guitars like a stormy tempest. Other side of the coin, still on the low-tempo side though, “Where I Found You” pulses with an extended intro before the music twinkles like moonlight through running water. In both, instruments complement heartbreak with purging. Even on faster paced tracks, which strike around the middle of the album, the watery sounds are still optimised: ethereal waves ebbing and flowing on “Give Us The Wind”, the thunderclap-click tracking of “Close To None”. It’s astounding how tight and consistent the album remains, and how effectively the band pulls it off without tedium seeping in.
Just based on the lyrical content and the musical composition, On The Water may sound like quite the pickle to cop a 50-minute earful from but it’s far from it – in fact, the album is a majestic, ethereal entity that cleanses and glistens all while remaining readily immediate off the first spin.
by David Claridad

June 7th 2012
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