1.”Walking Through That Door”-Future Islands
4.”Afraid Of Everyone”-The National
5.”World Sick”-Broken Social Scene
6.”Bloodbuzz Ohio”-The National
7.”In California”-Joanna Newsom
8.”Dancing On My Own”-Robyn
9. “I Can Change”-LCD Soundsystem
10.”Mouthful Of Diamonds”-Phantogram
1. Titus Andronicus-The Monitor
2. Future Islands-In Evening Air
3. The National-High Violet
4. Beach House-Teen Dream
5. Big Boi-Sir Lucious Leftfoot:The Son Of Chico Dusty
6. Joanna Newsom-Have One On Me
7. LCD Soundsystem-This Is Happening
8. The Tallest Man On Earth-The Wild Hunt
9. Robyn-Body Talk pt. 1
10. Janelle Monae-The Archandroid
FUTURE ISLANDS-IN EVENING AIR
Pop music has never been in short supply of break up albums. Since the birth of rock and roll songwriters have tirelessly plundered personal pain, regret and heartbreak. Earnest and heartfelt records of romantic loss often stand immune to the passing of eras and fluctuating trends because, well, heartbreak is timeless. Still, it’s kind of amazing in this era of hype, backlash and everybody scrambling to plant their flag in the next big thing, that something as fundamentally simple as a break-up record (and one firmly rooted in sounds popularized over twenty five years ago, no less) can still sneak up from behind and hit you in the gut.
Based on their debut record Wave Like Home, Future Islands didn’t necessarily seem like the best candidates for crafting a disarmingly gut-wrenching record like In Evening Air. Sure, Home’s back half hinted at a potential for soulful romantic grandeur with highlights like the title track and stand-out “Beach Foam,” but its first half was over-populated with gravel-voiced singer Samuel T. Herring spewing churlish rants over monochromatic rave-ups.
In Evening Air is the band’s first album for Chicago-based label Thrill Jockey, and their venture beyond Baltimore, and ironically, towards a somewhat more traditional sound, seems to have freed them from their native scene’s more limiting signifiers. J. J. Gerritt Welmers has ditched the cartoon keyboards of Wham City brethren Dan Deacon and Videohippos in favor of a broader palette of synth textures reminiscent of a slightly off-kilter New Order. The growth, both sonically and as songwriters, is obvious right from the get-go on the aching and gorgeous lead-off track “Walking Through That Door.” Welmers pits a humming keyboard against a gleaming synthesizer melody that becomes gradually more unhinged as the song progresses, underscoring the sad futility of Herring’s open-hearted plea to the untameable object of his affection (“I want to be the one to help you find those years…..it never works out right/unless you’re one to follow”).
Future Islands have found a way to further their sound without abandoning their existing strengths. The band’s relentless propulsion remains intact, but is used to more poignant effect. The incessant drive of “Long Flight” mirrors Herring’s anguished frame-of-mind, as he endures the torture of waiting to confront an unfaithful lover while sitting captive on a plane home. The melody simmers and stops just short of boiling over at the refrain, only to dissolve and repeat itself over and over until it erupts one final time, in the form of a full-throated, unintelligible wail that is all raw pain (“and you can’t look me in my eyes anymore/without yourself to defend….but you ruined what was love just cause you needed a hand”).
Herring matches the developments of his band-mates as both a singer and lyricist. Though he is still prone to bitter tirades, they are given added weight and depth when taken in context with his more vulnerable moments. He recognizes that his own punishing and unforgiving nature has contributed to his relationship’s dissolution by likening himself to the titular character on “Tin Man.” He even briefly let’s go of his resentment and empathizes with his ex, on the slow-burning, emotional late-album highlight “Inch Of Dust.”
Herring incisively distills what is painful about the loss of any serious relationship; no matter who did what to whom, at the end of the day, you’re still alone. No amount of righteousness will gloss over the void that remains in the other’s absence. Every one is a victim in this scenario. On the surging, climactic “Vireo’s Eye” Herring uses his Tom Waits-like howl to expose his helplessness and hurt, instead of his vengeance, repeatedly railing “we’re not kings here.” As the album closes with “As I Fall,” he is left pacing the floor, wondering whether he wouldn’t have been better off ignoring his lover’s betrayal in exchange for the emptiness he feels now (“Heavy hearts do bury words / Under promises and ‘anything you want’s”).
In Evening Air reminds me, in a strange way, of another recent album centered around themes of severed relationships: The Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit. Stylistically, the two albums could not be more different: one is an album of rousing,angst-ridden Scottish guitar anthems, and the other is a lush and melancholy synth-pop record steeped in the traditions of classic 80’s post-punk and new wave bands like New Order and The Psychadelic Furs. On the other hand, The Midnight Organ Fight was a sleeper of an album, released to initially modest fanfare, which slowly acquired a devoted audience on the sheer basis of having killer tunes with a gigantic bleeding heart at the center.