Music Reviews
On The Water

Future Islands On The Water

(Thrill Jockey) Rating - 7/10

Future Islands hold a special place in my heart. I listened to their previous album, In Evening Air, almost constantly during the Winter Olympics of 2010, which were a pretty big deal given my geographic location just south of Vancouver BC. It, like On The Water, isn’t a particularly happy album, but still lends sense of calm and warmth. Their music fit perfectly with rainy, 2 AM drives back and forth across the border. Even still, the climate I live in fits with the music, especially this time of year. Bellingham, Washington is a gray place, windy and rainy for 8 months of the year, but no one ever goes inside. Something about it just feels right, like it's a metaphysical shelter from the storm I wouldn’t bother hiding from otherwise.

There’s something incredible about Samuel T. Herring’s gruff, untrained voice. It wraps up otherwise simplistic music in genuine emotion, be that happiness, nostalgia or pain. They still sing about broken relationships and forging through difficult times, looking back to better times while seeking a happy future. They always narrowly skirt cliché, but somehow consistently avoid it. It’s quite a trick, and the vocals have everything to do with it. He sells it all so well that it can’t possibly sound tired or worn out.

On The Water relies less on the vocals than its predecessor. The music is more robust, adding more layers than the minimalism of before. The songs build more and are revealed slower, making it more satisfying and adding variety. Close To None begins with almost three minutes of keyboard drones before it slowly builds into a lively, driving song. The greater attention to detail is what separates On the Water from In Evening Air; Future Islands didn’t change their sound much, they just built upon a solid foundation.  They added complexity but didn’t sacrifice their overall aesthetic or distract from Herring’s vocals. They still manage to make a big impact with relatively little instrumentation, just with a little extra kick.

The only thing sacrificed was that one great song, something to match Long Flight or Inch Of Dust off their previous record. On The Water holds together better as an album, but there’s nothing I’ll play on repeat here, at least not like before. It doesn’t matter too much; they’re still steadily improving on their basic sound. Not by leaps and bounds, but in a satisfyingly quiet way. They’re going to be my rainy, late night drive soundtrack for a long time to come. On The Water makes sure of that.