On Future Islands’ second album In Evening Air, songwriter and lead vocalist Sam Herring created a break-up album that was simultaneously vicious and exquisite. Riding crest upon crest of aching synths, he yelped, growled, and barked his way through tale after tale of utter heartbreak and dejection. It was quite a spectacle, and if he were to push the boat out any further, you’d worry for his health – this is a man, after all, who regularly punches himself in the face onstage, as anyone who saw his show in Dublin last year can attest.
On The Water, plays out like the calm after In Evening Air’s storm. Herring’s heart still bleeds, but the mood is more reserved and reflective, thanks in no small part to a lapping sea of gorgeous instrumentation provided by bandmates William Cashin and Gerrit Welmers, which is reminiscent of a reflective New Order, or Ocean Rain-era Bunnymen. This mood of restrained sadness carries the album through a stunning mid section. Its floating centrepiece may well be the finest thing Future Islands have ever recorded – the twinkling and wracked torch song ‘Where I Found You’ which contains the nape tinglingly Proustian lyric ‘Look back / Hold onto the last / Don’t let the present push out the past’.
Listener’s jonesing for the rush of In Evening Air’s high points, will find some succour in ‘Before the Bridge’ which moves at a relatively danceable clip on some suspiciously Peter Hook-shaped bass patterns. But really, this album is a downer – and that is meant in the best possible way. If the ‘water’ referred to in the title is a metaphor, then it is a lake distilled from the tears of every break up ever. Yes, On The Water is that sad. Sam Herring just recorded the album that will launch a thousand break-up mixtapes. Stunning, accomplished stuff, with real heart. An album of the year.