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Future Islands: Everything, All At Once

The Baltimore band Future Islands is bound to remind listeners of 10 other acts, but at least it actually takes that many reference points to define its sound. From the ghostly synths that christen "Walking Through That Door," there's a hint of epic '80s synth-pop artists like Yaz or O.M.D., coupled with the unsettledness of an early Frog Eyes or Wolf Parade tune. As soon as the low-end kicks in, though, the hefty bass production oozes vintage new wave, a la New Order or The Cure. It's for these reasons that convoluted labels like "post-wave" (the band's chosen name for its genre) become useful; if nothing else, they help play out a tricky game of "Pin the Tail on the Band-Influence Donkey."

Party games aside, Future Islands' sound is as texturally interesting as it is rhythmically accessible -- music designed for both heads and feet. The X factor comes courtesy of husky-voiced singer Sam Herring, whose pipes are as elusive in description as the rest of the band: His melodies often have the shape and drama of David Bowie's, but with a tone-color akin to a gritty crooner like Micah P. Hinson. In "Walking Through That Door," this translates into a growl that's more graceful than anything else, melding perfectly with the off-kilter wail of the synths and the steady anchor of the bass line.

As referential as "Walking Through That Door" seems to be, it's also a disarmingly simple song: a handful of riffs, stubborn rhythms and low-key melodies, all pieced together in handsome combinations. "More with less" is the truism that seems apropos. The song may not resonate with everyone at first, but it doesn't wear as quickly once it does.

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Daniel Cook
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