Future Islands “On the Water” came out on October 11. It’s taken me a bit of time to write about it. I’ve been swooning, you see. Swooning. And it’s been a while since I swooned, so I hope you forgive me.
If I was dating Sam Herring and a girlfriend asked me explain what he was like, I’d blush, dreamily look heavenward and say, “He’s like a mix between Tom Waits and Peter Gabriel.” Yum. Let’s just go ahead a spit out a slew of words to describe this man. His voice is more of a roar – raw, gravelly, ripping screams through the air and husky pleading whispers. It is haunting and haunted at the same time. His lyrics, too, are sweetly tormented. Consumed by a heartbreak, they dwell in memories and the torture of ‘what if.’ What if it could have been different? What if we try again? That query comes up again and again throughout the album – The plea for one more chance after the last chance has already been used up.
There is plenty of despair for us pain junkies, but no anger and no spite. Instead, these are songs about the continuing love we commit ourselves to as our lovers take leave of us. These ballads and anthems are about how we cope with still loving someone even though we know that they aren’t coming back and ultimately, how we find deeper understanding in it and discover or manufacture a way to hold on and move on.
Who was this woman and when is poor Herring going to get over her? Is it completely selfish of me to prefer that he didn’t so i can continue to write songs like this forever?
This album is chock full of affectionate sentiments. “I shield you like a candle,” from On the Water and “I would have carried you as far as the stars” in Before the Water. It’s also got some painful zingers. Like from the call-and-echo duet, The Great Fire – “I can’t be the wound you wear to sleep, always.” This prayer-promise features lovely vocals from Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak.
But, with Herring’s words, it really isn’t the poetry that gets to you, for he’s more a Raymond Carver than a John Keats. It’s the treatment of the things we actually say. In the tender and piercing, When I Found You, it is simply put – “You know I love you / And I still do.” There’s a line in Close to None that I’ve been waiting for a man to say to me for years, “I’ve been trying to get back to you for some time.” These words are proof that people don’t need poetry as much as explicit maxims that sum everything up – I love you. I miss you. I want you back.
The last few tracks concern turning the corner. Give Us the Wind is an anthem about not denying your pain, embracing it, in fact. Wearing it with pride like a war wound on your chest. I love the defiance – “Don’t bless me / No don’t bless me / We don’t want your blessing.” Rather feel the pain then regret never feeling anything at all. As I recently said to a friend. I’d rather be burned by the chemicals then to not do the experiment.
In Balance, we’re reminded that it takes time, which seems corn dog, but it’s always good to be reminded of that. There’s the hymnal Tybee Island and then the exit music of the album, Grease, which is kinda about starting over again. I like the last line of the chorus, “I’m growing old / I was a boy not long ago.” I know the feeling. We all do after a certain point, if we are playing this game correctly.
Much of “On the Water” was recorded literally on the water in North Carolina, so throughout, ambient sounds of the waves and wind chimes can be heard. Or maybe it’s the clinking glasses of the restaurant on a loop. Either way, the first melody sneaks up on you – and wherever you actually are doesn’t really matter because you’re suddenly lost in thought and memory and hope about the last great love of your life. It’s that moment that you’ve finally found yourself at enough distance. You turn this album on as you start walking away. Each step is going to hurt, but it was going to hurt anyway – wasn’t it?
Among other things, I believe that music is a tool to help us retain our memories. I use it to lock in moments and feelings, the look in someone’s eye, lovemaking sessions and fights, conversations, the seasons, the electricity in the air, where I live, what I love. I’m one of those people who organizes life with albums. On the Water couldn’t have shown up at a more timely time. Initially, I thought this was about my Apollo. Especially the tune, Where I Found You. It seemed so pertinent for us.
But, no. It turns out that this album belongs to my beautiful Narcissus. In ten years time, when I listen to these laments and ballads, it’ll be his eyes I see with those long, long, eyelashes. I’ll be his Echo again, deep in cave, repeating my affections to his deaf ears. Something snapped in him last night. I did something I don’t fully understand and I think he’s gone for good. I’m so stunned and sad about it that I haven’t been able to cry yet. I haven’t even really slept, either. But I have listened to this album about twelve times.
To listen to the album before you commit:
Future Islands will be at the Bowery Ballroom on December 1 – And so will I. They will be closing out US dates in Baltimore, their home turf, on December 3. I love them so much, I may just hightail it there as well.
They will also be in performing in some of other favorite cities in November:
November 5 – Austin, TX @ Fun Fun Fun Fest
November 15 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
November 17 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex
November 18 – Long Beach, CA @ Alex’s Bar
November 23 – New Orleans, LA @ Circle Bar