The takeaway moment from On The Water is a woeful Samuel T. Herring bemoaning, “Do you believe in love?” He does—and he doesn’t. The Future Islands frontman spends much of the group’s third album waxing nostalgic over dead-end romances and the swollen heartaches that come with them. It’s a bit manic-depressive, to be sure, like the obsessive friend who just can’t comprehend why things didn’t work out. But the album seems to be less about keeping those feelings in than it is about finally letting them go. On The Water is a cryptic confessional, Herring’s own song-by-song exorcism of haunted thoughts and occupied memories.
There are, of course, two other guys in the Baltimore-based band. Much credit is owed to bassist William Cashion and keyboardist Gerrit Welmers for smartly building the album around hooky, post-wave basslines and heady synth beats that exalt—rather than condemn—the affairs of the heart. The record is sweetly evocative, swathed in meditative rhythms and lighthearted melodies. Tracks like “The Great Fire” (with elegant guest vocals from Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner) and “Balance” teem with youthful exuberance and a John Hughes-like wonder at all the cinematic moments that make uncompromised love seem, well, believable.