Music

Future Islands: In Evening Air

In Evening Air escalates the band's method in nearly every way, exploring new sonic territory and offering an affecting and modern take on the breakup album.


Future Islands

In Evening Air

Label: Thrill Jockey
US Release Date: 2010-05-04
UK Release Date: 2010-05-03
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One virtue of a legitimate post-punk/post-hardcore musical landscape is the ability to move beyond the deadlocking argument surrounding what constitutes the true sound and lifestyle of those genres. In recent months, Malcolm McLaren passed away, Raw Power reared its Bowie-mixed head again (this time in a "Legacy" edition), Damian Abraham and Buzz Osborne made multiple appearances on Red Eye, and a reformed Earth Crisis hired a Fall Out Boy to play drums. In short, anything goes.

Future Islands' self-application of "post-wave" as a genre descriptor could have been a major misstep, as it might have unintentionally suggested that the band was claiming superiority or transcendence over the music that influenced its work. Yet the term fits without question upon seeing the band live or listening to one of its independent releases like 2008's Wave Like Home. Despite the presence of synthesizers as an integral instrument, the minimization of electric guitars, and the overall dance-music patina, Future Islands is an exemplary post-punk band. The band seems to understand that punk and hardcore derived their identity as much from an underlying spirit as they did from specific traits of composition and production. For Future Islands, post-wave is a direction that combines the sounds of new wave with that raucous rock spirit and channels both into an energetic and soulful form.

There is an uncommon thrill in hearing a band discover and deliver a fresh approach, and this is what Future Islands achieves on the nearly perfect In Evening Air. Wave Like Home contained a number of ear-catching songs (most notably "Little Dreamer" and "Beach Foam"), but the album zigzagged too frequently to attain a consistent musical identity. Additionally, the band has thrived in the singles format, recently making a splash with non-album tracks like "The Happiness of Being Twice" from last year's Feathers and Hallways. In Evening Air escalates the band's method in nearly every way, exploring new sonic territory and offering an affecting and modern take on the breakup album.

In a time when many bands seem to be dwindling down to a minimum number of members, it is common to hear an act that sounds too skeletal. Perhaps the vagaries of the economy have created musical chic out of the starving artist mystique. Despite having only three members, one of whom (Samuel T. Herring) contributes solely vocals, Future Islands defies the odds with a surprisingly robust sound. Synthesizer whiz J. Gerrit Welmers provides the beats, tunes, and textures, and his contributions frequently create a song's first impression. Although the material on In Evening Air is not formulaic, there is a pattern to the way these songs develop. Welmers acts as a melody-maker and pacesetter, then bass player William Cashion follows closely after, turning in powerfully expressive yet still reliably rhythmic bass lines. Finally, Herring joins with his one-of-a-kind voice, which in theory holds up to Waits/Cocker/Mercer/etc. comparisons, yet in reality is distinctively and variably executed throughout the album and live shows.

Opener "Walking Through That Door" unfolds with deceptive liveliness. A listener only attuned to the upbeat tempo might not take in the longing of the lyrics, which hint at failures, lost opportunities, and the night falling slowly. The majority of Herring's lyrics are enigmatic, connecting on an emotional level but leaving supposition of literal meaning and association to the listener's own imagination and experience. In my mind, "Walking Through That Door" evokes carrying a bride across the threshold, though the song could describe any number of precipices or fragile relationships. "Long Flight" is somewhat more direct in its subject matter. Lyrically repeating and varying the handholding motif from "Walking Through That Door", "Long Flight" is a song about discovering and dealing with infidelity. One of the album's few weaknesses is the protracted length of "Long Flight", which cycles through most of its good ideas in a few minutes but runs over five. Though Cashion's bass work and Herring's intensifying cadence are compelling, the synthesizer becomes distractingly repetitive.

Joining Hot Chip's One Life Stand in the dance music-with-steel drums department is "Tin Man", a number that the band has been playing live for months. Amongst the many pleasures of the heart-seeking "Tin Man" is an irresistible chorus, the singer's surprising but inevitable declaration towards the end of the song ("I am the Tin Man"), and forceful bass playing that puts to rest any notion that this band needs a rhythm or lead guitarist. Title track "In Evening Air" is a hypnotic, wordless interlude that functionally separates the album into two halves. The song does not seem to hold any direct association with Aaron Copland's "In Evening Air", though Theodore Roethke's writing that inspired that Copland composition is a possible origin for the night-falling-slowly section of the lyrics in "Walking Through That Door" ("I see, in evening air, / How slowly dark comes down on what we do").

The subdued "Swept Inside" features a calmer and quieter Herring singing some of his best lyrics ("By the shattered calls of a mother's arms, all swept inside...") in a gentle melody. "Inch of Dust" showcases the versatility of the whole band, as Welmers and Cashion one-up Air France's "Maundy Thursday", and Herring somehow sounds like Marianne Faithfull at her whiskiest and raspiest. The album ends with "As I Fall", which uses a string section and chorus of synthesized female voices as a foundation over which the proper song rises and falls. Themes of sadness and disconnection that have appeared throughout the album reach a poignant conclusion as the string section slowly fades into nothingness.

The past few years have seen an explosion of exciting music from Baltimore, and this release places Future Islands at the forefront of that scene. In Evening Air establishes Future Islands as a band both aware of the need to keep pushing its sound forward, and one entirely capable of doing so. At a recent performance at Black Cat Backstage in Washington, D.C., Herring responded to the crowd's calls for old favorites like "Beach Foam" and "Little Dreamer" by stating the band's desire to move ahead rather than backwards. In Evening Air joins the ranks of classic break-up records in its chronicling of past and lost love. Creatively, however, Future Islands looks ever onward, seeking out the post-wave without pretense.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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