Saturday, October 24, 2020

Future Islands - ‘As Long As You Are’ ALBUM REVIEW

Samuel T. Herring is an advocate for pure and unadulterated passion, a passion laced with fiercely introspective lyrics and astonishingly powerful vocals. His band, Future Islands – made up of Gerrit Welmers, William Cashion and Michael Lowry – are advocates for warbling keyboard synths, simple but delicious basslines and crashing cymbal crescendos. Each of these are hallmark traits of every one of their albums, and their sixth ‘As Long as You Are,’ is no different.

But maybe that’s the issue? It all seems just a little too familiar.


On first look, Future Islands’ brand of synthpop is hard to expand upon, and each of their albums seems as if they’re reusing the same tried and tested formula again and again. With only a three piece band they are renowned for those swirling and sparkling synths, and rely on the lead singer to provide a much-needed intensity to their atmospheric melodies. 

Without Herring, one has to question if Future Islands would be anywhere near as respected as they are?

The band’s first real taste of the limelight came after an attention-grabbing ‘Seasons’ performance on Letterman in 2014 – Herring sidesteps and grooves around his 2 metre surface area stage as if he’s snorted a sumptuous cocktail of uppers and ingested a quart of magic mushrooms. Instead, if one looks beyond the father-at-daughter’s-wedding-dancing and catches one glance deep into his eyes, you see the distraught longing also reflected in his impassioned tones. Herring certainly feels the regular emotions more intensely than the average dude, but his spectators can’t help but feel that tingling sensation when Herring is at his true, synapse-tearing best.


On ‘As Long As You Are’ Herring maintains the same force. His transcendent voice soars like a resplendent eagle over the wistful tones, battering listeners ears with sheer, pure emotion. On ‘I Knew You’ his nostalgic lyrics are amplified with the somber regret in his voice, on ‘City’s Face’ his mournful contemplations are infused with a distinct air of melancholy, in many of his verses they express more desperation in their tone than in their words.

However, that sweeping statement would shroud some of Herring’s more poignant social commentary. When he discusses issues beyond toxic ex-girlfriends and the ignorance of Trump supporting acquaintances  – content he’s dived headfirst into before – his heartrending and poetic tendencies emerge with potency.

Reflections on his addiction and toxic masculinity in his hometown in rural North Carolina in ‘Thrill’ and ‘Born in a War’ paint a picture of a man who sees this album as a spring forward, providing closure on a time he could never quite forget. ‘Plastic Beach’ provides an insight into his struggles with the way he sees himself, both emotionally and physically.

In fact, Most of Future Islands’ work has focused on looking back to a past tinged with regret, which entrenches the band’s sound in what seems already trodden territory. Despite the added poignancy, the melodies and familiar feelings of regret leave most of the songs entrenched in already trodden territory, sometimes staggering, but almost always what we’ve come to expect from the Baltimore band. Sometimes the contrast between the soothing synths and Herring’s impassioned cry works beautifully, but there for much of the album, there is something missing. Perhaps that missing element is the funkier grooves from 2014’s ‘Singles,’ or the heavier percussion of 2017’s ‘The Far Field’?

However, the album’s first and last tracks perhaps elucidate where the band intended to go with the album. The soaring ‘Glada’ - named after a Swedish bird near Herring’s new Scandinavian home – finally feels transformative. Ensconced in nature, the lyrics show a frontman that finally feels appreciated, and is willing to move beyond his doubts and worries and regrets. The triumphant concluding song, ‘Hit the Coast,’ is complete with radiant synths that hallmark Future Islands’ best work and lyrics look optimistically towards a future untainted by their past griefs and heartaches.

Perhaps these two songs represent a new eruptive start in the world for Future Islands, one free of the regrets that peppered their old work. Though we can hear hints of the metamorphosis Future Islands’ seem to crave, ‘As Long As You Are’ represents a band hurdling towards transition, but they’re not jumping quite high enough just yet.


- Charlie Kitcat


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