Review Summary: New wave for tough guys with soft hearts.
What’s most initially striking about Future Islands’ In Evening Air
is the voice of singer Samuel Herring. He sounds like new wave’s answer to Isaac Brock: gruff, off-kilter, and polarizing all at once. The instrumentation is no less strung around Herring’s voice as he is woven into it, dropping in and out of the mix as he pleases. The pedaling synths and dissonant guitars of “Long Flight” are unaffected by his presence and chug forward with or without him – he’s just the wild card and it’s a role he takes with vigour too, howling and crying for control amidst the bass rumbling and spiraling synths that sit above him in the production of “Vireo’s Eye”. But for all his deep, throaty gargling, “Tin Man” opens with: “You couldn’t possibly know how much you mean to me”. And oh, what torment. “Swept Inside” highlights him at his most subdued (or perhaps jarred): “She says nothing seems the same / and I can’t change a thing” and with it comes the big reveal – In Evening Air
is another take on heartbreak but in every way not just another
take on heartbreak.
This isn’t an album that grapples its problems with clarity or wise-with-experience retrospection. Herring often sounds more like he’s resisting being crushed under the weight of his problems than he is angry and bitter at them, the synths dot and sparkle but never dance, and the percussion is firm and directing; the band progress with a goal, like they know where they're heading, and it's Herring's voice that marks each twist and turn of the trail. “Inch of Dust” is surrounding and calculated between swells of synth but dissolves into open air around the promise “Call on me / I’ll be there always” as if to lose its posture for a moment, before clinging back together as Herring’s voice becomes more tortured around the repeated line. There’s nothing momentous or heroic about the moment but rather an experience far more human: desperation. It’s sincere, apologetic, throws ego or pride to the wayside and it’s all channeled through the vocals as they rise, shout, wail, mumble, whisper and eventually fall.
Even without falling too deeply into it, In Evening Air
still poses a breadth of values to adore. Lead single “Tin Man” uses jangly synths and a simple verse-chorus song structure in what is one of the most singalong worthy cuts on the album, while “Long Flight” is uptempo and crescendo-driven, spurred on by Herring’s quickfire vocal delivery. At just over thirty-five minutes, the length of the album works to its advantage too, not overstaying its welcome as well as solidifying the fact that there’s nothing exceptionally challenging about In Evening Air. What it comes down to is investment: sink your teeth into it and explore its depths or enjoy it nonetheless as the eccentric new wave prize it is on the surface. Either way, you’re in for a treat.