In Evening Air, the full-length debut from Baltimore-via-Greenville trio Future Islands, accomplishes a lot with very little. Even calling the band a trio misleads, as the term might evoke images of a guitar, bass and drums triumvirate, bashing away at viscous rock music. But this is a hooky, dark dance band. Sam Herring only sings and sashays. William Cashion just plays bass. Gerrit Welmers adds programmed drums and beds and blips of keyboards.
Future Islands' sound doesn't suffer the duo-with-frontman configuration. Cashion's distorted bass pairs deep, wide textures with terse, neck-snapping melodies. Welmers' keys luxuriate in layers of noise on "An Apology" and sprinkle variations on a sad-eyed pop theme during "Swept Inside." "Vireo's Eye" stacks layers of tones and tempos, using simple repetition to create the illusion of a bigger band.
What's more, In Evening Air is a little LP: Its nine songs combine for 36 minutes, and the mid-album title track is a luminous instrumental miniature that suggests sound artist Philip Jeck rebuilding a Ziggy Stardust instrumental. Still, these minutes are full of emotional intensity given perfect urgency by Herring's strangled soulman voice. Suggesting The Postal Service's Give Up losing its innocence, these springy tunes come swallowed by storm clouds. On "Long Flight," for instance, Herring takes us into the bedroom where he saw his live-in lover cheat, singing, "I really wanted you there/ But you ruined what was love/ Just 'cause you needed a hand" like he's still sweating through the nightmare. "Call on me/ I'll be there always," he chants during "Inch of Dust," gradually getting louder with the phrase, turning what first seems an offer of reassurance into a cry for mutual help. You sort of want to give the dude a hug. Mostly, though, you'll want to sing along.
Neither Future Islands nor In Evening Air are remarkable only for their efficiency. Size matters only insofar as the songs and the performances succeed, and, here, both are mostly perfect. In Evening Air stands as one of the year's best records—a poetic, provocative and powerful statement by a band patient enough to recognize its limitations and turn them into intoxicating, electric atmospheres.