Demonstrates their ability to pen no-foolin’ synth-pop tunes.
Noel Gardner 2010-05-14
Although still quite some distance from household name status, Baltimore trio Future Islands make a notable climb up the independent rock ladder here by releasing their second full-length album via the Thrill Jockey label. Previous records have been on yet smaller indies, reflective of their self-reliant noisemaking in their city’s DIY scene (alongside the likes of Dan Deacon); however, In Evening Air demonstrates their ability to pen no-foolin’ tunes in the medium of fuzzed-out synth-pop.
The band themselves have attempted to give their music its own genre: post-wave, a meeting of post-punk and new wave. Certainly, Future Islands are not without precedent. Keen listeners can reach back through a few decades’ worth of keyboard manipulators who sonically self-sabotaged their chances for mainstream success through their own oddness and abrasiveness. This pretty much exactly defines one particular micro-genre, a passing fad on early-80s mainland Europe known as coldwave, which is currently enjoying a resurgence of fashionability. Future Islands are not a coldwave group, as such, but their clunky retrograde drum machines and arch, stilted vocals put them on nodding terms with it. One might also throw in early punk-era Americans like Nash the Slash or The Units, the thin-lipped campness espoused by Stephin ‘Magnetic Fields’ Merritt, and the high drama that has made a cult name of Xiu Xiu.
The deal-breaker for some may be Samuel Herring’s vocal delivery: you imagine the band to harbour a certain Anglophilia, or at least have a New Order album or six lying around, but his plummy croon (especially forceful on opening track Walking Through That Door) could be heard as overly affected. Conversely, though, it’s this dandified persona that legitimises lyrics like “When he was young he had a dream / To be a star of the movie screen” (from the propulsive organ drone of Swept Aside). In creating a work which pretty much unfailingly sounds like it could have been made 25 years ago, Future Islands have rejected a lot of current sonic trends – only for their sound to land fashionable-side-up anyway. The tunes are the thing, of course, and the tunes are good.