Critical Voices: Future Islands, On the Water

October 6, 2011

It is not often that a title perfectly captures the sound and feeling of an album. However, On the Water, the newest release from Future Islands, does just that.
A brilliant collection of 11 tracks that ebb and flow between the band’s characteristic electronic sound and its more recently developed minimalist rhythms, On the Water showcases this Baltimore trio’s best collaboration yet.
For the new album, the band lived and recorded in a historic North Carolina waterfront property, the Andrew S. Sanders House—listeners can clearly hear the sound of the sea off the Carolina coast. The sounds of the ocean, which echo throughout nearly every track of the album, create a comfortable coherence. Likewise, they give On the Water a meditative quality that draws listeners in.
With their liquid-minded, flowing tracks, Future Islands masters the art of minimalism and understatement. Clearly an album about heartbreak and loss, frontman Sam Herring’s lyrics are always genuine and never sappy, building towards his self-proclaimed desire: “I want you to feel the way I feel.”
The track “Where I Found You,” for instance, brings a new twist to the heartbroken love ballad—filled with sounds of hope rather than bitter loss. Building on this less-is-more mantra, the song highlights the strength of Herring’s vocals as he drives the slowly building keyboard progression and mesmerizing drum beat.
The album’s title track highlights the range and depth Future Islands was aiming for in this release. With live percussion and a dissonant keyboard progression that complements Herring’s throaty voice, it sets the tone for the tracks to come—a combination of the electronic with the minimalist, best captured by the field recordings of the sea and wind chimes on both this track and “Grease.”
“On the Bridge” stands out with softer-hitting electronic tones, shifting the focus to its mix of melodic hooks and overtones that resemble steel drums. “Close to None” further shows Future Islands’ range and musicality with its diverse use of instrumentals, including quick guitar riffs and organ-like piano chords overlaid with ringing tambourines.
Bottling up the Atlantic in 11 diverse and captivating tracks, Future Islands reaches new heights with On the Water. In extending their musical range, the band has succeeded in creating an album that will draw in alternative and electronic loyalists alike.


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