Future Islands propelled into stardom oddly following a performance on Letterman. Their brilliant last album, Singles, saw the fantastic quirky dancing and live vocal decoration of lead singer Samuel T Herring become an Internet sensation, allowing their fourth release to feel as fresh as a debut.
The Far Field, their latest release, provides for both a solid follow up to their last nurtured album and a true testimony to the brilliance of the band.
For anyone not familiar with the sound of Future Islands looking to dip their toes into the past tide of their catalogue, the most accessible introduction is likely the lead single from their last album Seasons (Waiting On You). This was the first track I ever heard from the Baltimore born band, being hooked from the offset. The offensively vintage 80s sound is both growingly mainstream and paradoxically refreshing.
The Far Field swells into being with opening track Aladdin taking a healthy thirty seconds to bring Herrings iconic vocals forward, the comforting sound that is. And from the outset, it is clear that this is an album of continuity, not change. The synths, the bass, the outrageous vocal, it’s all there as it was before. And despite continuity often getting trashed for repetitiveness and a lack of creativity, this is not at all the case here. Yes, Future Islands are using the same formula as before, but this formula isn’t broken yet, so why fix it?
Hidden behind the iconic dance moves and toe tapping tracks lies a broken man. On third track Ran, Herring sings “And what’s a song without you? When every song I write is about you, When I can’t hold myself without you”. This is not an isolated example of the explicit painful heartbreak inspiring the beautiful lyricism of Herring, with every track providing more than a mere glimpse of agony, regret and gut-wrenching unrequited love. Herring’s lyrical suffering alone is hard to swallow, yet the bands songs disguised in floor-fillingly brilliant synth-pop dance tracks makes them both wonderfully clever and so flawlessly accessible.
What is also clear with Future Islands, is that they care about the album as an art form. It seems obvious, or if not, accidentally superb, that they took time to think about the structure and order of the album as a collective piece. From the gradual ballooning introduction on the first track Aladdin to the dramatic and climactic end of ‘side one’ with the strongest track Through The Glass (as on the stunning white vinyl, which I personally recommend), to the reassuring introduction on ‘side two’ with North Star. It is this careful structure and thoughtful production that rounds off this album so neatly, bringing a great sense of sincerity to the overall piece. Although the pulsing drums, the driving bass and the notorious synths may well define the sound and aesthetic of Future Islands, the final presentation is what puts them above the stereotype.
The addition of Blondie vocalist and punks most famous front woman, Debbie Harry, is a clever and fantastic compliment to Herrings anxious vocal. Her confidence, sexiness and
wisdom may provide for that ‘step forward’ and show the bands progression. It may alternatively show the bands reputation in the music business that an icon such as Harry is willing to attribute herself to Future Islands. But what it definitely shows is that this is a band of originality and understanding. Harry’s rebuttal is perfectly placed and provides that elegant final touch to a class track of Shadows; it’s not overdone, it’s not gimmicky, it’s just right.
At its heart, this is a pop album, albeit on the margins of a ‘typical’ pop album. But, nonetheless, Future Islands do pop music like no other, and quite frankly this is how it should be. True and meaningful lyrics coming from an honest situation, revealing the highs and lows of themselves in a way no other band at the moment is doing on such an accessible level. Despite this being their fifth album, Future Islands could well be the ‘next big thing’.