You know how it goes: your friends will go on and on about a certain band, and then eventually wrap up their rant by saying, “You just have to see them live.” This is how I was introduced to Future Islands. But while I was instantly taken by their new long-player In Evening Air, how could the breathtaking vocals of lead man Samuel T. Herring possibly be as affecting in a live setting? My question was answered when I saw Future Islands in a tiny DIY space in Charleston, South Carolina. Propelled by the solid platform provided by William Cashion (bass) and J. Gerrit Welmer (synth), Herring proved to be an amazing performer, gesticulating in a way that only served to escalate his already dramatically-delivered vocal tales.
In Evening Air is the band’s second full-length, somewhat surprisingly released by Thrill Jockey rather than Carpark, a label that sometimes seems like the nexus of all things Baltimore. But, then again, despite relocating to B-More, Future Islands are actually North Carolina boys, having grown their chops in Greenville and the fertile soil of surrounding southern college towns. They’ve been at it for a while (since 2001), and all that experience has no doubt served to hone the band into the incredible, focused unit that it is today. Case in point: In Evening Air shows the band hitting on all cylinders.
“Walking Through That Door,” the album’s first track, does an amazing job of setting the pace. According to what Herring said live, it’s a song about “helping a friend,” but even without paying attention to the lyrical content, the song carries heft thanks to Herring’s deep-feeling vocals. “Tin Man” has been circulating as the album’s “single,” and it’s a good summary of the band’s aesthetic. Among pseudo-calypso drums and Cashion’s dynamic bass, Herring laments,“You couldn’t possibly know how much you meant to me/ You couldn’t possibly find it in your heart to forgive me,” alternately lecturing a lost love about “having a lot to learn” and asking questions of himself about “finding the one thats just right.” It’s perhaps the band’s most concise statement, and it’s a powerful one.
Future Islands also succeed at making earnest, wind-swept “post-wave,” reflective on past failures while embracing the possibility of future love tempered by experience. The songs here are all blessed with a perfectly consistent tempo, invoking the melancholy joy present in all the best of early New Order. “As I Fall” begins with operatic vocal washes, unraveling with driving bass and Herring intoning, “I can’t touch you anymore/ I can’t tell you how I feel”; “Inch of Dust” is a wonderful slow-burner with stadium-sized drum (machine) and infectious keyboard; and both “Swept Aside” and “An Apology” manage to be simultaneously meditative and uplifting, echoing a certain new wave introspection.
Indeed, Future Islands is that rare band that manages to capture its rippling essence both live and on record. Whether you’ve first heard their recorded work or experienced one of their cathartic live shows, the manner in which they come to you doesn’t matter — either route is as equally unforgettable. Due in large part to Herring’s undeniably affecting vocals and lyrical laments, In Evening Air is a record that sticks. It is one for autumn, for spring, or for any moment of your life that is vividly tainted with love and all its trappings.