Sunday, October 9, 2011

Album Review: Future Islands - On The Water

The first time I listened to Future Island's sophomore album, In Evening Air, I was pretty underwhelmed. While the album had a strong emotional tone to it that made it appeal to me in some ways, the music itself seemed way too repetitive, with almost every song having the same beat at almost the exact same tempo. After giving it a few more chances, it eventually grew on me until it became the best synthpop album I have ever heard before. Every single track began to strike a chord for me and became incredibly catchy. And now a year later, the Baltimore trio drops their third album, On The Water. Singles "Before the Bridge" and "Balance" gave us the impression that Future Islands kept the same catchy musicianship and emotional overtones as they did on In Evening Air. The emotion is still there and stronger than ever, but the musicianship leaves a bit more to be desired.

On The Water shows Future Islands slowing things down a whole lot. The constant tempo of In Evening Air has been dropped significantly to the point where the energy has almost been completely sucked away. Songs such as "Swept Inside" and "Tin Man" were really powerful tracks that really had a punch to it driven by the fast, danceable beats. On The Water still has moments like the two singles where the band really lets out the energy that dominated In Evening Air, but for the most part it feels generally empty and void of any the energy that made the band so appealing. On "Close To None", the band starts to sound alive again, but not without an entire three minutes of ambient noise, which the song could definitely have done without. Much like how the album could have done without the minute and a half filler track "Open", which adds nothing to the album along with the untitled closer, which features nothing but noise from a harbor.

But if I said that the lack of energy made this entire album bad, I would most definitely be lying. "The Great Fire" is one of the stronger tracks on the album, which is slowly driven by the band's usual synth sounds and signature plucky bass tone and has the same moodiness that the group is well known for. The track brings Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak into the mix, which works surprisingly well against lead vocalist Samuel Herring's distinguishably gruff and rugged voice and adds a nice touch. The penultimate track, "Grease", also works well on a slowly rolling beat without putting the listener to sleep.

Considering the evolution that Future Islands went through in between their quirky 2008 debut Wave Like Home and their masterpiece In Evening Air, On The Water has very little to offer. Future Islands sounds exhausted of ideas, and is now merely floating on the water. And to me it seems like the band is fully aware of this, releasing "Before The Bridge" and "Balance" as singles, which out of context made the upcoming release seem like it was something that it wasn't. If Future Islands can stick with this sound and put life into it and make it interesting, then I would have no problem with it. But Future Islands working without the energy that defined them is very little to be excited about.


01 On the Water
02 Before the Bridge
03 The Great Fire
04 Open
05 Where I Found You
06 Give Us the Wind
07 Close to None
08 Balance
09 Tybee Island
10 Grease

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