…Having a scene-stealing frontman is clearly not a point against the Baltimore based trio. Future Islands recently signed with Thrill Jockey (who already swooped fellow Baltimore band Double Dagger) this year after attracting buzz in the already teeming beehive of artists associated with Dan Deacon’s Wham City art collective. Future Islands have enough backlog musical stock to benefit from a single “must hear” facet rather than running the risk of folding under the weight of miniature horse gimmickry. To wit, J. Gerrit Welmer’s austere synth work never falls into the synth-pop dungeon of infinitely repeated minimalist chord progressions. While decidedly minimalist in scope, Welmer’s keyboard tackles a variety of different textures and sounds within a traditionally closed shop of elaborative possibilities. For example, the album is book-ended with refreshingly original takes on the genre: “Walking Through That Door” features swirling church-organ lines that peal off bassist William Cashion’s lock-step bass. The finale “As I Fall” is built on sampled vocal choir lines that ebb and flow just enough to be considered rhythmic while Cashion reinterprets the menacing rhythms of Jeff Ament’s proto-grunge pounding bass work.

Welmer’s contributions often serve to counter or at least keep grounded Herring’s full cast of vocal personae. The ambiguously Caribbean sounding instrument (steel drum? Gamelan?) that punctuates Herring’s most vocally expressive track, “Tin Man,” keeps the track climbing steadily as Herring tears his heart (and throat) out with near sobs and a roaring chorus. There has been a lot of talk of a first-wave goth revival with bands like Blessure Grave, Crocodiles and The Soft Moon making significant strides in 2009-2010, and if we are to favorably compare Future Islands to this group we can do so, not in terms of the dispassionate gloom that these bands exude, but with the subtle turning of synth-pop back on itself. Instead of providing an escapist vehicle for the kids of baby boomers to blow their inheritances on soft drug habits and expensive shoes they will end up vomiting on, Herring unleashes a wail from the catacombs of warehouse art galleries and high school theater clubs. Herring’s vocal histrionics move from the glass-in-the-throat growl of “Tin Man” to his near Elvis-sounding sneer on “Long Flight,” to a baffling English-accented talk-sing on “An Apology.” If you find the vocal intonations of Casey Mercer too tame and predictable you may be ready for Future Islands….

Ryan H.

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