A Human Connection

Baltimore synth-pop group Future Islands adds an organic touch to glitchy recordings

November 30, 2011
Future Islands members Gerrit Welmers, left; Sam Herring, center; and William Cashion are changing the face of synth-pop.

Baltimore’s Future Islands are a synth-pop trio, but there’s nothing robotic about singer Sam Herring’s romantic lamentations. His plain, antipoetic lyrics get charged up with jolts of over-enunciation, vocal swoops and the occasional faux-British accent.

There’s lately been a slew of keyboard-heavy bands emulating the New Romantic sound of the ’80s, often with a precision that drains any soul. Herring’s charmingly overwrought style is what turns Future Islands into more of an “emo-romantic” band inspired by that glitchy synth-pop.

“We always try to bring it a humanness, to make mechanical music in an organic way,” says bassist William Cashion, who lays down the jams along with keyboardist Gerrit Welmers. “That’s also the reason that we include field recordings [in our arrangements]. That bridges that gap between the programmed and the synthetic and real things you can touch.”

Released in October, Future Islands’ third album, “On the Water,” features cellos, violins and acoustic percussion — along with background sounds captured outdoors at a North Carolina waterfront. The natural world also features heavily in the album’s song titles, including “The Great Fire,” “Give Us the Wind” and the title track.

Add to that songs such as “Before the Bridge” and “Tybee Island,” and there seems to be an elemental theme. But Cashion says “On the Water” is not a concept record.

“This is a group of songs that work well together as an album,” he says. “But there was no underlying concept we were discussing when we wrote it. I feel like it takes a certain kind of band to make a true concept record. I’m not sure we’re that kind of band.”

Future Islands is the kind of band that can breathe life into synth-pop — a unique concept in itself.

Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., Baltimore; with Javelin, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Sat., 9 p.m., $12; 410-662-0069.
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