First off, it’s not every day you find a band that sounds like Xiu Xiu and Wild Beasts mixed in a blender, and that’s exactly what you get with Future Islands. On The Water is an off-kilter pop offering, forcing together a mix of fun percussion, slap-bass riffs and restrained crooning vocals. Romantic and monstrous at the same time, this is an album that showcases both DIY and clear production values side by side. An inconsistent album to say the least, but sometimes getting a flavour for many genres in one body of work can prove to be successful; or just sound like improvised material stuck together with shoddy glue.
Opener and title track “On The Water” takes on Dracula-esque husky crooning vocals with a Bat For Lashes-inspired drum beat and adds in a melancholic bassline for a wonky avant-garde lament that you’d expect from Xiu Xiu. There’s a sense of sheer desperation for warmth and love in the vocals as Sam Herring calls, “Can I be the one you hold tonight?”
Standout “The Great Fire” sounds decidedly Twin Peaks-inspired, but modernised with 8-bit chimings. With female/male responding vocals and the slow-building bassline, this could’ve made for an unusual 80s epic love ballad. “When I Found You” slowly builds up with several synth key changes that sound like a record losing the needle on a turntable and the vocals are more honed in and soothing than previously.
Again, there’s a clear focus on love as Herring regretfully sings, “You know I loved you/And I still do,” and there’s emphasis on the past and regret throughout the album which makes for difficult listening. As people, we sometimes tend to dwell on past events and worry about what could have been instead of looking to the future and forgetting past mistakes which produces a melancholic reaction similar to the mood of On The Water.
The eccentric vocals sometimes let the album down as there’s very little variety of vocal range and it’s hard to listen to the album in full in one go as listening throughout feels like walking up an ever escalating hill with no peak. “Close To None” is a low point on the album, with a fuzzy ambient instrumental that goes nowhere for three minutes, only to burst into an epic bass led tune with electronic undertones – yet 3 minutes would be too long to wait for any song.
Despite the clear motives with the themes in the album, the instrumentation fluctuates in a chaotic manner that makes it very confusing to listen to at times. On The Water bursts into flames at the start but just peters out into smoky remains as the album goes on. This is one of those ‘song’ albums; it’s hard to listen throughout but as individual songs, they hold up well as strong material from Future Islands.