Although established in 2006, Future Islands seem to be a band that haven’t really been able to get their footing—be it in what kind of sound they are going for, or in the number of full length albums they have put out. Regardless, after a listen or two, On the Water is the album that changes things for this band; it’s a solid synth-pop album with some jams that will have you either bobbing your head to the beat or basking in the glow of their dramatically emotional musings.
Future Islands is composed of three men with synthesizers, vocals and guitars, the combination of which makes for an interesting sound combo. You have these groovy synthesizers that fuse with the passionately gruff vocals of Samuel Herring, which makes up the crux of their sound. Herring belts the words to his songs in his mesmerizing style, pushing every ounce of emotion into every syllable he sings, which drives the sonic interest behind this band and makes the sound more than just some synthesized beats.
On the first song, which is also the title track, you can hear such passion emoted in Herrings vocals. Some atmospheric noise starts things out softly, but then the drum beats and synths roll in and it feels like a beast is crawling over your ears. This image is completed with the entrance of Herring, whose vocals feel strained with raw feeling, even turning into a growl-like state at some points. I’m reminded of a cross between David Bowie and Patrick Wolf in that the throat emotion is the main focus of his style, which may feel melodramatic to some, but proves to be my favorite part of Future Islands’ sound. If you detest it after the first song, I don’t think it would be wise to attempt to pursue this band any further—it is the driving force behind the synth.
There are some standouts on this album that seem to propel it past their last release. One of these comes third and features Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak for some male/female duality in the vocals, and the result is a lovely combination of power. Another highlight comes later on “Give Us The Wind,” in which you can jam to the deep bass of the song and feel the cathartic weight of the lyrics; “We don’t want your blessings/ Give us the Wind.”
While not all songs are exactly the most explosive of numbers, there are enough high points to outweigh the mediocre ones. On the Water serves as a good synth-pop record that will surely warrant further listening.