Baltimore has garnered quite a reputation over the past few years as being a city which produces outstanding talent in a range of fields, musical and otherwise. Beach House is of course the example that immediately springs to mind, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find the talents of Dan Deacon, Low Dens, Adventure and of course not forgetting the dazzling skills of the stars of that fascinating show on Food Network, Ace of Cakes. Alongside this impressive roster, we also find Baltimore musical stalwarts Future Islands and their blissful third album, On The Water.
Opening up with the title track, a delicate organ/synth combination leads us into the album before the track twists into a bass-led ode to loss and faded dreams. After steady beginnings, the pace of the record is given a lift with second track ‘Before The Bridge’, where some of the more recognisable, driving tendancies of Future Islands are given the opportunity to resurface. From the get-go, it’s clear that Future Islands have laboured to make this their most sophisticated sounding effort yet, and they’ve certainly succeeded. Each tone sounds rich and relevant, and there’s a confidence filtering through that makes the listener feel that they’re in very safe hands.
On The Water is a record that’s been very carefully plotted. Knitted together by instrumental intros, outros and sections such as the soothing ‘Open’ which then drops into the bright, pulsating tones of ‘When I Found You’, this is demostratably an album that has a very natural ebb and flow – a drive and direction.
Vocalist and wordsmith Samuel T. Herring bears his trademark, specific style, which over the past year or so has led to many a comparison being drawn between the work of Future Islands and that of Wild Beasts. It must be down to the theatrics of it all, with Herring using enunciation and a pseudo-operatic singing style as a tool to convey just as much musicality and expression as the melody and lyrics themselves. The dynamics, which play such a vital role in the success of this record, can be just as much attributed to Herring’s vocals as to any other part of the album, as he constantly changes the pace, tone and level of his voice to match the speed and feel of the supporting music.
This is a record seeped in tenderness which undulates from every corner and crevice. The guitar sounds are often sublime, and texturally, this album is never much less than perfect. ‘Give Us The Wind’ is a great example of how Future Islands can seamlessly weave an emphatic guitar line into a delicate electronic backdrop, marrying contrasting elements in a manner that, after creating three albums together, has become second nature to them. The track ‘Close To None’ demonstrates this perfectly, opening with a gently journeying ambient tone, before suddenly lifting into a bright and light dance paced number.
After five years together, this threesome have become something of the unsung heroes of synth pop, a reputation which is sealed by the track that the band chose to close this record with, ‘Grease’. The only adjective that could fairly describe this track is sumptuous, as a prominent bass line entices us towards the hazy wall of sound that features as this track’s backdrop. On The Water is an accomplished, beautiful record from the Baltimore three piece, and one which we’ll be listening to for a long time to come, without a doubt.
On The Water is available now via Thrill Jockey.