* What: Future Islands, Ed Shrader's Music Beat, and Wye Oak
* When: Friday, March 7, 10 p.m.
* Where: J.J.'s Bohemia, 231 E. MLK Blvd.
* Tickets: $5-$10
* Phone: (423) 266-1400
Future Islands says it aptly on the band's Twitter page: "too noisy for new wave, too" - we'll say, um, wimpy - "for punk." Indeed, synth pop trio Future Islands rests comfortably in the fulcrum between danceable and dark.
The cinematic build of the instrumentation takes a page from '80s sounds, but the songs are fast-paced enough to put on at a party. Herring's voice rises to dramatic crescendos and lowers at times to a growl, buoyed by the energetic beats and masterful guitar riffs.
The band is Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming), William Cashion (bass, acoustic and electric guitars), and Samuel Herring on vocals. The group formed originally as Art Lord & The Self Portraits while the members were students at East Carolina University. They put together the band's current incarnation in 2006 and they've produced four albums - the fourth, "Singles," will drop on March 25th.
They're now based in Baltimore, a decision that was influenced by the growing indie music scene and the band's good friend and avant-garde electronic artist Dan Deacon. After playing a show in the charm city, "it seemed like something special was happening in Baltimore, and we wanted to be a part of it," William Cashion said. "The scene is really diverse musically, and everyone is supportive of each other. There's not really a competitive vibe here, we're all rooting for each other."
The low-key scene of Baltimore is fitting for the band; these guys don't look like unapproachable hipsters, and their normalcy is part of what makes the group so endearing. As Pitchfork Media's Ian Cohen put it, "When you finally see the man behind the unhinged, highly theatrical voice, he looks like the guy picking onions next to you at Trader Joe's."
Their songs touch on themes of heartbreak, loneliness, and desperation, but Cashion said their shows usually have audiences dancing. "We love to see crowd surfers, too," he said.
On their last album, "Evening Air," the track "Inch of Dust" floats lightly atop its infectious relooped hooks, but "Tin Man" is introspective, moody: "You couldn't possibly know how much you meant to me / You couldn't honestly look inside my tarot / You couldn't possibly find it in you heart to forgive me / You are the savage sun and scarecrow."
The painful truth of lyrics like these are important to the group, who publishes many of their song lyrics on their website, a rarity in a time when people aren't often buying physical CD's and poring over liner notes.
"A number of times we found our lyrics posted online and they were incorrect," explained Cashion. "The lyrics are important to us, so we wanted to make sure everyone could understand what [Herring] was saying."
Lead singer Herring writes those lyrics, and Cashion and Gerritt gel them with music to make pop songs.
"We've always considered ourselves to be a pop band," Cashion said. As for what makes a good song? "It could be so many different things," Cashion said. "The melody, chords, bass groove, rhythm, drum beat, lyrics, honesty, vocal delivery, simplicity, complexity, atmosphere, production, where you hear it, how you're feeling that day."
The band will play songs from their newest album with a few older tunes thrown in, Cashion says. Joining them are Baltimore indie folk duo Wye Oak and Ed Shrader's Music Beat, a moody rock electronic duo. If you discovered The Smiths in college but spent a long enough time dancing the MGMT, this show is right up your alley.