In Evening Air, the second album from Baltimore’s Future Islands, seems at first to be an odd assemblage of elements that shouldn’t click into a satisfying whole. Some of the album’s tempos brood, others are borne toward the dancefloor, and all are topped by Samuel T. Herring’s impassioned, sometimes wrenching vocals. While it’s not hard to find comparisons for specific components of Future Islands’ sound, it’s much more difficult to pin down the end result or how it actually works. One thing’s for sure: it does work. In Evening Air is a moody, propulsive, eccentric album that has a way of getting stuck sideways in your mind. And it’s likely that the tension created by its disparate elements is what makes it so enduring.
The album’s opener, “Walking Through That Door,” pits a simple, clearly defined rhythm against swooning Technicolor keyboards. The fragility of the melody is striking: they sound as though they’re fraying or fracturing as they’re being played, like the act of listening will cause them to unwind. The rhythms’ steadiness -- the solidity of the basslines and the consistency of the drums -- bolsters things, providing some guarantee that everything won’t implode, that the group’s more ecstatic tendencies won’t disrupt the pop-song structures in which they work.
Their pop song-craft does have a way of standing out: “Tin Man” and “Swept Inside” (the most traditionally post-punk number on here, but also one of the album’s most captivating) each prompt a flurry of sympathetic motion even as their idiosyncrasies help them to endure beyond an initial encounter. This isn’t to say that this is Future Islands’ defining statement; nothing on In Evening Air quite achieves the slow-burning power of the title track to their In the Fall EP. But as a distillation of Future Islands’ textured, unpredictable approach to pop, it’s a fine starting point.