I’ve given it some thought … In Evening Air was awesome.
(Thrill Jockey, 2011)
I can’t help but wonder if On the Water is kind of a cop out. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig it, but it’s almost a total comedown from the amazing, and Crate-Digging #1 record of 2010, In Evening Air, a pained yelp of an album from a fractured man ripping the very fibers of frayed nerves from a disintegrating relationship. It was visceral and messy, as well as cold and hollow. You couldn’t hide from it, anywhere – it came at you and came at you and came at you, and each moment of tiny, specific agony built and built until the screams became primal (see in particular “An Apology”) and the heartache turned into disgust and paranoia. In Evening Air was pure, unadulterated unhappiness, and whether you positioned yourself outside of it and looked in, being entertained by the train wreck of a relationship that played itself out across the record, or empathized with it, you were undoubtedly enthralled.
On the Water is not In Evening Air, nor should it be. Comparing the two is partially disingenuous, as they’re both so different, but it is what we must do. So I say, no, it’s not a cop out – it’s more of an internalization of the outwardly focused rage and hurt, a realization that people move on, lives must still be lived after a cataclysmic close, regardless of the personal wreckage. And that’s where we find singer Samuel T. Herring, the Waits/Bowie-throated frontman, and his bandmates William Cashion (bass, guitars) and Gerrit Welmers (keyboards, programming), somewhere still raw from lost love, yet moping over a beer instead of shouting to the heavens. It’s apparent at the very outset, as the title track ushers in its own album, that the mood is a bit more somber. The band has been sort of half-criticized for this in other reviews, but I’m going to give it to them – candlelit moping and half-hoping for good and bad things to happen to your ex works for these guys. It’s the slow, late-night contemplative and depressive plod along the harbor that we’re soundtracking here, and the synthesizers and pace weep along with Herring. And he even yelps melodramatically at points.
Which he doesn’t do that often, I have to say. One of my favorite moments on In Evening Air is when he bellows “so far away!” during “An Apology,” and because he’s past that stage in On the Water, we don’t get those singular moments. Instead, we’re treated to a more stretched out, organically shifting piece of work that doesn’t require The Bellow as such. But there’s a disadvantage if the pacing’s off, and unfortunately On the Water suffers a bit in that category. Although it’s odd that the title track begins the album as it does, I don’t blame it. I really like it, actually. Rather, the band plops interlude track “Open” at position four, and follow it with the wisp of a track “Where I Found You,” itself lasting over five minutes. They’re momentum killers, especially after the excellent and upbeat “Before the Bridge” and the torch song duet with Celebration’s Katrina Ford “The Great Fire,” the former a blood-pumping synth anthem and the latter a lesson in high melodrama. In fact, “Where I Found You” makes “Give Us the Wind,” which follows it, sound positively upbeat – it’s certainly no burner, but it’s got a little more giddy-up especially when compared to what boxes it in.
There are more things that seem odd, especially considering the breathlessness of In Evening Air – the drone that engulfs the first half of the runtime of “Close to Home,” the barely-there “Tybee Island,” which, I must admit is a disappointment, because I love Tybee Island the place, and was hoping for an exciting homage – but the good things, in the end, trump the weird. And even the theatricality of the delivery and the sheer unencumbered seriousness of the lyrics somehow work with each other and the music to render themselves uncringeworthy – it’s like a chemical reaction that results in an inert, nontoxic material, palatable to the senses. Herring and co. are master chemists in that regard. Thus the driving synth-pop of “Balance” and closing yet-another-torch-song “Grease” work equally well, and On the Water as a whole ends up a success. Maybe not as triumphant a success as In Evening Air, but still a nice statement. (It also helps that I can’t get enough Future Islands – I have a … healthy obsession.)
RIYL: New Order, Tears for Fears, A-Ha, Berlin, Moss of Aura, Angelo Badalamenti
“BEFORE THE BRIDGE”