I was never a huge Future Islands fan and felt their material tended to be overwrought and unbalanced. But what a difference a year can make—that is, if the band plays hundreds of shows and spends countless hours honing its craft. That's exactly what Future Islands did, and its latest Thrill Jockey release, On the Water, exuded newfound confidence and poise. The band's jaunty blend of bouncy synth lines, thick bass, nimble guitars, and crooning vocals remained largely unchanged, but it downshifted into a New Order/Roxy Music/Human League hybrid that was smart, well-paced, and evocative. And getting Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner to sing on "The Great Fire" was a stroke of genius. Future Islands moved from the lightweight to the heavyweight division in 2011.