In Evening Air
, May 19th, 2010 09:04
As a massive fan of HBO's The Wire (isn't everyone?), it is sometimes hard to believe that music outside the boundaries of hardcore hip-hop and thuggish dance music exist in Baltimore, MD. It's difficult enough to reconcile the fact that the like of Marlo Stanfield walk the same streets as punks such as Double Dagger, let alone dream-poppers Beach House or drum-molesters Thank You, but the bitterest pill to swallow was learning that B-More had it's own thriving avant-garde hippy art collective: the Wham City project. Orbiting around merry prankster Dan Deacon, bands like Adventure, Teeth Mountain and Video Hippos were churning out albums of day-glo synth-pop and percussive experimentalism, hosting multi-media love-ins and generally contradicting every preconception of the city perpetuated by David Simon and friends. Free parties were the order of the day; ecstasy and acid - not heroin and crack - the drugs of choice. And in the middle of all this, a great little band called Future Islands.
Comprised of musical mastermind J. Gerrit Welmers, bassist Wiliam Cashion and vocalist Samuel T. Jeffers, Future Islands craft what they themselves call "post-wave", combining the power and complexity of post-punk with the romanticism of new-wave. In Evening Air is the band's second album, and first full-length for Chicago label Thrill Jockey, following their 2008 Upset The Rhythm debut Wave Like Home, and marks a noticeable improvement in the quality of songwriting, as well as evidence that the band is really starting to establish a more consistent identity. Whereas Wave Like Home featured a handful of memorable melodies, its messy instrumentation and tendency to lurch between tempos from song to song leant that album a distinctly DIY feel. In Evening Air, on the other hand, flows beautifully from start to finish.
Unlike their Wham City peers, who use synths as day-glo focal points, Future Islands use them to create lush beds of shiny electronic noise. In fact, the subtle, circular riffs Welmers contributes to most of the songs here share more common ground with fellow Baltimore residents Beach House than most of their buddies in Deacon's gang. Following the departure of former member Erick Murillo, Welmers also takes care of programming the rhythm tracks, mostly mid-tempo variants on kosmische's motorik glide. These combine perfectly with William Cashion's bass, the most prominent sound in the mix throughout the album. He uses it as a lead instrument, locking into a groove and driving the songs forward. Jeffers is a magnetic frontman, with a voice that brings to mind a more theatrical Tom Waits or a less restrained Bowie; a deep, gravely croon that sometimes mutates into a pained howl. His lyrics are passionate, vulnerable and poetic, often declaring undying love or mourning it once it has passed.
Highlights here are so plentiful it would be quicker to comment on the dull parts, but standout moments are the New Order pulse of opener 'Walking Through That Door', the catchy 'Tin Man', the slow-motion 'Inch Of Dust' and album closer 'As I Fall', with its looped, angelic choirs and droning string outro. Overall, the album mines similar territory to bands like TV On The Radio and Junior Boys, an 80s-inspired world of darkened discotheque corners and doomed romances, but like those albums the mood here is defiantly upbeat. In Evening Air easily holds it's own against the year's other crossover alt-pop hits, Hot Chip's One Life Stand and Yeasayer's Odd Blood, without resorting to the knowing irony of the former or the trying-too-hard trickiness of the latter, relying instead on simplicity and sincerity to keep feet tapping while hearts melt.