It’s been 3 years since the Baltimore, US quartet came out with their fourth album ‘Singles’ released by 4AD, which saw them reach new heights. Consisting of Samuel herring (vocals), Gerrit Welmers (keyboard) and William Cashion (bass), the post-wave/synth-pop alternative band hasn’t always had this big of an audience for an album, touring 5 consecutive years after their third album ‘On the Water’ which was rushed by their label and ended in separation until 4AD signed them up for 3 albums. Since then, Future Islands have broken through to new listeners following their fourth album and have now re-enforced their sound with ‘The Far Field’.
On March 3, 2014, Future Islands made their television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman, performing the track “Seasons (Waiting On You)”, one of the hits of their new album to be released and during the performance, Samuel Herring (front man) started dancing, his antics creating a buzz online. The dance which origins from Herring having his foot ran over by a car before a show in 2004, earned them internet success and widened their audience before the launch of ‘Singles’. That song went on to be named best song of 2014 by Pitchfork, NME and Consequence of Sound, the album became such a success that their tour for it was extended. This marked an important phase for the band, solidifying their sound, adding a drummer for live performances and Herring finding his distinctive voice with his growling unfortunately due to problems with his vocal chords, which means he can’t hit high notes. Even though past albums had good reviews, Future Islands was somewhat still an underground band of sorts, before ‘Singles’ found itself reaching new listeners.
With their fifth album, ‘The Far Field’ comes from a poem of the same name by Theodore Roethke, also where their second album’s name comes from, ‘In The Evening Air’ (2010). Poetry has been a big part of Herring’s life, being a rapper outside of Future Islands under the alias Hemlock Ernst, the first part of his name coming from a poem he wrote about Socrates taking the hemlock poison and the second part from artist Max Ernst. Over the years, he’s gotten involved in many hip-hop projects, collaborating with a wide range of artists, adding a new spectrum to his performance abilities and only solidifying how incredible this man is. Coming back to the album, the band took most of 2016 off to write as many songs before heading to the studio, giving them the ability to reflect and think about how things have developed over the past few years. Performing and testing out new songs under names such as The Hidden Havens, Chirping Bush or This Old House, the result of all these factors means we’ve been presented with a lush, synth-driven and twirling melodic bass indie pop album which re-enforces what we heard in ‘Singles’.
“Time on Her Side” has a beautiful, melancholic feel to it, the synths laying out gloomy feels with the bass providing pace and support to Herring’s vocals, singing of letting go of someone, coming to terms with it even through the pain as well as sorrow.
“Ran” is one of my favorite tracks, the dreamy synths with the indie toned bass makes it for a perfect Future Islands song, giving this record a “driving album” feel, best listened when traveling. Talking of the struggle of love when you’re living life on the road and the hardship of having both, Herring said this about the track: “It’s about all the trials and tribulation that happen from us being out on the road, the things that we miss back home and also the things we go towards—and all those feelings. So I think it pretty much encapsulates a lot of the things that we’ve written about over time, but it’s just the newest understanding of that in our lives.”
“Cave” is also another great track, the bass jumping into high-tempo with the drums over the flowing synths, Herring providing beautiful lyrics of a desperate need to let go of your ideas and beliefs, saying it was a goodbye to someone he’s held on to for a long time.
The album is full of Future Islands goodness, “Ancient Water” has more of an electro synth-driven melody which works well in terms of the feel of the song, talking of putting everything down, walking outside and listening to sounds which relates back to their isolated beach house where they wrote some songs on the album. “North Star” provides an uplifting feel through the percussions and warm synths whilst Herring talks of the driving force of love, driving through half the country and a blizzard, to see her again. “Through the Roses” is raw in its lyrics, talking of overcoming darkness with solidarity as a human being, Herring saying: “It talks about thoughts of suicide and loneliness, but in the end it says that we are not alone and we can do this together; it has that, but it’s more about people and emotions.” What a surprise it was to have the brilliant Debbie Hary from Blondie joining on the track “Shadows”, both vocalists nailing the lush feel of the track, talking about a relationship where their love saves them from darkness.
Overall, it seems Future Islands have really found themselves on this record, Herring sticking to his powerful, emotional lyrics, the synths and bass altering in driving the song through synth-pop waters and with a drummer finally adding that liveliness to the tracks. It’s been a crazy ride for the band, especially after ‘Singles’ but they’ve come back with a solid album that cements their place in terms of sound, characteristics and reputation.