SYNTHESIZERS AND self-flagellation were the last two things anyone expected at Pickathon, but there was Samuel T. Herring barreling across the stage, pounding his chest, gagging himself with his free hand. He was a maniacal mirage, a dense cloud of danger interrupting the idyllic panorama. "I was intimidated," Herring admits regarding Future Islands' chaotic incursion into the folky, family-friendly Portland festival. "At the same time, it was liberating, too, to get up there and do what we wanted."
Future Islands are bona fide experts in catharsis. Last year's In Evening Air was a resonant set of new wave confessionals; it was big, bold, and sick with heartache, occasionally wrenching but rewarding for those who made it through. Moreover, it marked the first time Future Islands transcended their synth-pop scaffold and delivered on the emotional promise of their shaky early material.
The new On the Water, recorded with Double Dagger drummer Denny Bowen on North Carolina's Pasquotank River, is surprisingly understated. "[On the Water] is about stripping away any kind of weird myths around ourselves. We're not that band. We're not trying to hide behind an image. We want to be as honest as possible," says Herring. The album is overlaid with a connective set of beachfront field recordings—the shifting of the tides, the perpetual motion of the heart.
Its thematic centerpiece is "Tybee Island," named after the timeworn Georgia beach of the same name. "I was tired," says Herring. "We had been on the road awhile but were taking some time off, [so] I set up what I would later call my Southern vision quest." The weeklong solo journey, Herring says, was about letting go of an old love; specifically, the subject of In Evening Air's tormented tunes. "I spent some time in Asheville, North Carolina, where we lived together for a year, and in Athens, Georgia, where we met. Then I went out to Tybee Island, where we first kissed, on the beach. These [places] were such a part of me, but for two years they scared me. It was about me going there and moving past that."