Imagine for a moment that you’re perched atop a pristine body of water. As you gaze downward, ripples contort the natural world, and all of your tangible surroundings seem strangely elusive and engulfed in fantasy.
The other side of that reflection?
The world in which Future Islands live.
Appearing tonight at Opolis, the Baltimore trio specializes in synth-pop steeped in surrealism, largely via the croaky narration of singer-songwriter Sam Herring. Yet since the release of its most recent LP, On the Water, the band has become even more brooding and introspective. The tempo has been curtailed and the atmospherics amplified, embodying a sound more hospitable to rumination in the abstract.
According to guitarist William Cashion, this refinement is at least partially due to the placid shoreline of Elizabeth City, N.C., where the album was written and recorded.
“Being by the water invokes this sort of reflection, and I think some of that definitely came through on the record,” Cashion said. “It mirrored where we all were at that point with writing and recording.”
A temporary shift in geography made sense to a band seeking new methods of inspiration, but the batch of songs never abandons the outfit’s Baltimore roots, employing the aid of a couple of the scene’s more revered musicians, including Wye Oak vocalist Jenn Wasner.
“It was fun to work with your friends, try to see what different sounds you get and breathe some new life into some of these songs,” Cashion said. “We’re always thinking of other instruments, sounds and textures we could bring in.”
The new sonic territory explored throughout On the Water is one of wide-open spaces and swashes of ambience, reshaping a project once predicated on its menacing tension into something more pensive and nostalgic.
Consequently, the balance between sound and lyric has shifted toward the center, but with such enchanting melodies to support them, Herring’s mangled words carry more emotional weight than ever before.
Between his leathery vocals and the expanding instrumental palette of his supporting cast, Future Islands have carved their own niche within the realm of modern synth-driven music. Early cries of “New Wave!” and “Post-punk!” are becoming a thing of the past as increased fanfare and acclaim greet the act.
“I’ve never really considered us a synth-pop band, per se,” Cashion said. “I guess we do have some elements. But I think [On the Water] is a big sponge of all these different influences and things that have happened. I think we’re all just getting a little better at what we’re doing.”