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Future Islands: On the Water
Sounding much like a friendly monster, Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands writes lyrics with his heart on his sleeve. The Baltimore-based band’s 2010 album In Evening Air came alive with the endearing passion with which his simplistic lyrics were delivered; the album captured listeners with the inner turmoil and desperate existence of a failed romance. The band’s 2011 release On the Water - while more relaxed and freer of a turbulent reality - is equally human.
The band – made up of vocalist Herring, keyboard/programmer Gerrit Welmers and bass/guitarist William Cashion – recorded On the Water by the Pasquotank River in Elizabeth City, North Carolina; and so much of the album’s overall sound is laced with the imagery and serenity of water. The opening track begins with chime-like and breezy recordings taken from under a pier. Then, atop a creeping, soft beat, Herring’s signature gruff emerges in relaxed vocals. ‘I waited for an answer/ You turned before me leaving’ is a sympathetic reminder that, although they come with more acceptance, Herring’s tales continue to be of heartbreak and solitude.
Instilled with an undeniable techno beat, ‘Before the Bridge’ is slightly deterring at first; but eventually, with Herring’s ethereal sincerity and an overall 80s-infused bounce, their world of humbled melancholia prevails. In contrast to In Evening Air, this album breathes easier. ‘The Great Fire’, a duet with Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak sounds liberated, cooled after a much smouldering anguish.
The album continues to be considerably understated up until ‘Closer to None’, where it picks up momentum. Imagining this album on a curve, ‘Balance’ is a definite peak, being by far the best track on the album, it has the perfect balance – no pun intended – between the danceability of the music and the seriousness of Herring’s composition. It’s both contagious and addictive, and very much in the spirit of new wave/80s legends New Order, The Cure and Cocteau Twins.
With this album, Welmers and Cashion are by far more present and better defined; ‘Grease’ and ‘Give Us The Wind’ are more about the thumping beat, wispy synths and low lurching riffs than Herring’s dramatic performance.
However, this album can be quite sleepy at times; ‘Tybee Island’ is just a mush of floating (although studio enhanced) sounds of the water and lullaby-ish singing without actual words; there are even moments where the album comes to a complete quiet. Nonetheless, with all these layers of tranquillity On the Water is not without its own tragedy, and the line ‘I loved you and I still do’ is indicative of that.
Just ask Guns ‘n Roses’ Axl Rose or try and listen to any recent Korn album without cringing. Many bands quit (R.E.M., Sonic Youth), others tone down their sound (Metallica) and some keep regurgitating what they’ve been doing for decades (The Rolling Stones).
Kim Thayil’s guitar traditionally wails around on the dissonant side of the spectrum and singer Chris Cornell still deals out high-pitched screeches like a rock version of Celine Dion – but they have audibly matured. And considering that the grunge kids of two decades ago have aged with them, many will appreciate this more grown-up, adult sound.
After 52 minutes, one question remains: now that Soundgarden seems to have arrived at their definitive sound, will they become one of those established bands that don’t evolve anymore? Like fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam, or grandfathers of rock Aerosmith, for example. Or will they continue to develop their sound, like Muse or Radiohead?
If you’ve ever wondered what it might sound like if TV on the Radio and The Edge from U2 asked Panda Bear to produce a collaboration album, you may have your answer.
With Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, M83 brings us their sixth studio album, perhaps their most ambitious yet.Combining surreal dreamscapes of synthesizers and reverb with driving drumbeats and choir-like vocals, front man Anthony Gonzalez has created a double-album that pays respect to previous influences using unmistakably contemporary sounds.
On prior records, especially 2007’s Digital Shades, Vol. 1, M83 leaned almost entirely on ambient electronic sounds, and Gonzalez earned his reputation by emulating musical heroes like Brian Eno. On Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez and company show they are not afraid to flex other musical muscles, a bold decision that has resulted in one of 2011’s best releases.
The 22-track album spans across multiple genres and periods of music. Tracks like ‘Reunion’ sound like the 80s-style rock music you might mistake for something off of The Joshua Tree. On the other hand, more experimental tracks like ‘Raconete-Moi Une Histoire,’ ‘My Tears Are Becoming a Sea,’ and ‘Year One, One UFO’ are mesmerising ballads full of echoing string arrangements and crashing symbols. In between those two stylistic bookends, M83 shows that it can rock out with songs like ‘OK Pal’ and the first single off the album, ‘Midnight City.’
In other words, there is something for everyone, and a lot for anyone to like about Hurry Up We’re Dreaming. Even the ‘Intro,’ featuring Zola Jesus kicks the album with a crescendo of powerful synthesiser chords and choir harmonies.
M83 is at its best when it looks both forwards and backwards for inspiration. At times, particularly on tracks like ‘Claudia Lewis,’ the grooves and melodies don’t sound entirely innovative, and it’s not hard to imagine them fitting well alongside the credits for cheesy 80’s comedies like Earth Girls Are Easy. Still, if this is the worst thing you can say about a record, so be it.
For a double-album, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming has surprisingly few dull spots. Just when you think you are getting tired of the more accessible tracks like ‘Midnight City,’ you can fall head first for your choice of awesome dreamscapes that Gonzalez has sculpted. Equally useful for long car rides and before-bed listening sessions, Hurry Up We're Dreaming is a necessary addition to any serious music lover’s collection this autumn.