On the Water, the latest album from Baltimore’s Future Islands, is the most interesting indie-dance record released this year. Wait, it’s not really a dance record, maybe I meant indie-rock record. Well, it’s not really rock either. Is it chill-wave? I’m thinking not. Honestly, On the Water doesn’t deserve to be shoved into any one category; on the contrary, it needs its own private category where nothing else could possibly go.
Harnessing the power of the 80s is pretty popular these days, but Future Islands use the tools of 25 years ago to create a unique brand of music. There are so many bits of the past rolled into these songs, which makes you feel like an archeologist picking these songs apart, uncovering layers of influence. The best part about Future Islands is they don’t really sound like the sum of their parts, they are always Future Islands. Many times I feel like I’m listening to an unreleased David Bowie/Brian Eno record from 1985. Eno’s ambient sounds collide with Bowie’s “China Girl”-era dance sounds. The bass frequently reminds me of early Cure or New Order. I even pick up phrases that remind me of Tubeway Army. All of this makes listening to the record really enjoyable and well worth your time, and time is something you will need to invest in the album if you want it to fully blossom. The tracks “Give us the Wind” and “Before the Bridge” are perfect barometers for this record. If you can’t get into either of these songs, this album probably isn’t for you.
On the Water is one of the more challenging albums I’ve heard this year and I think it is because it is not easily defined. Not being able to pigeon-hole the record makes you actually think about what you’re hearing — what you like and don’t like. If you’re willing to spend the proper time with the record, you will be rewarded with one of the more original albums of 2011.
Purchase On The Water via Thrill Jockey