Release Date: Apr 7, 2017
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
When Future Islands released their fourth album, 2014's Singles, the band had just nailed a Late Show appearance from which frontman Samuel T. Herring became meme-ified. Their single "Seasons (Waiting on You)" became one of the year's bona fide hits, and the Baltimore band achieved household name status. For their fifth album, The Far Field, the trio find themselves in the position of satiating an audience that wasn't previously there.
Although I'm no golden-ager, vainly mourning the passing of the "traditional" major-label record industry, it felt somehow appropriate to receive the announcement of The Far Field with a few months' lead time ahead of its release, along with a beautiful, balanced visual identity for the album, a rigorous tour schedule and, above all, a terrific lead single, "Ran", which serves as a thrilling microcosm of its parent LP. Future Islands have built up their fiercely loyal fanbase the old-fashioned way: by virtue of ceaseless touring, dedicated, workmanlike songwriting and an insatiable commitment to transformative, uncompromising live performance. It seems fitting, then, that "Ran" is a proper single.
So much has been made of Samuel T Herring's fantastically theatrical performance during a 2014 appearance on the American CBS programme The Late Show With David Letterman, that it remains the first thing that pops into your head about Future Islands. Drawing hilarity at first with his crazy moves, the laughing gradually subsided until you appreciated Seasons (Waiting On You) for what it was - a damn good synth-pop song with a distinct nod to the early '80s. It is less heralded, however, that a similar performance on Later…With Jools Holland contributed just as much to the band's huge leap in popularity, Herring bringing his inimitable style to a UK audience first hand.
11 years Future Islands have been together. 11 years, over a 1000 shows, and now it's time for album number five. Growing a mass of loyal fans over the past decade, it was the release of fourth album Singles that thrust the band into the limelight, with that David Letterman performance of 'Seasons (Waiting On You)' making them viral stars overnight.
B efore becoming unlikely stars in 2014 on the back of frontman Samuel T Herring's extraordinarily impassioned performance of Seasons (Waiting on You) on David Letterman's show, Baltimore three-piece Future Islands had released four well-received albums of synth-driven indie. Their fifth doesn't deviate greatly: Gerrit Welmers and William Cashion create lush soundscapes that owe much to the more muscular end of 80s AOR, while Herring adds the vocal bombast. Although they come close with the urgency of Ran and Cave, nothing here quite matches up to Seasons, but then that bar was set ridiculously high.
Future Islands have found strength in vulnerability. Over the past decade, flailing frontman Samuel T. Herring and pals have been releasing synth-laden reveries that explore the power in being emotionally open, raw, and changeable. 'The Far Field' picks up where 2014's 'Singles' left off, taking in the full scope of human compulsion.
If you followed synth-punk monuments Future Islands prior to their 2014 Singles/Letterman explosion - i.e., since their 2008 commercial debut, Wave Like Home, and not counting their oft-forgotten 2006 self-released EP Little Advances - then you'll already be well aware of what makes them memorable. From the start of their now-storied career, which had them at the forefront of the late-aughts Wham City scene in Baltimore, Future Islands have excelled in crafting sweet-and-sour synth melodies bolstered by New Order-worthy bass lines. And, of course, there's lead singer Samuel T.
For 'The Far Field', Future Islands' fifth album, the Baltimore trio find themselves in an unfamiliar position. For the first time in their 11-year career, they are making new music knowing a lot of people would hear it. That hasn't been the case before. Until their TV performance on the Late Show With David Letterman just over three years ago, they were an underground concern - a band who'd sweated through 800 shows and collected a small but loyal legion of followers.
Having honed their craft across three full lengths, it wasn't until 2014's Singles that Baltimore trio Future Islands really got people listening. An album made up of 80's synth-pop gems combined with Samuel T Herring's dancing on that Letterman performance, found Future Islands with more entranced listeners than they ever imagined. Finding itself in the upper echelons of Top 10 lists of 2014 across the board, it became an instant classic.
Three years later, everyone is still talking about Samuel T. Herring's dancing. If the details of indie rock's most beloved fairytale have somehow escaped you, in March 2014, Future Islands performed their song " Seasons (Waiting on You) " on " Letterman ." Vibrating with intensity, Herring beat his chest, growled, and bobbed like the sneakiest featherweight in a heartfelt display that went viral and minted the Baltimore trio's fortunes.
No one in recent memory has crushed a late-night TV performance the way Future Islands did with "Seasons (Waiting on You)" on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2014, in support that year's album, Singles. The fact that anyone would remember a late night musical guest in the modern age, let alone three years later, is a testament to frontman Samuel T. Herring's raw power.
Future Islands' 2014 album, Singles, was the moment when it all came together for them, musically, commercially, artistically. It had a handful of amazing singles, an overall sound that was sophisticated while wracked with emotion, a Chris Coady production that sanded off any sharp edges without feeling overdone, and Samuel T. Herring's brilliant vocals taking it all over the top to greatness.
On the fifth album from Baltimore's Future Islands, frontman Samuel T. Herring continues to put a begging, pleading soulman spin on the moony affliction of the Cure and New Order - slathering his gangly sandpaper croon all over songs like the dance-pop gallop "Ran." The results are comically over-the-top but still warmly moving; he's the kind of guy who can make the line "we were the candles that lit up the snow on dusty roads" seem poignant. Debbie Harry of Blondie swings by to help moan the tenderly gloomy "Shadows," and the whole thing nicely evokes a rainy Eighties afternoon awash in heartache and MTV.
A band that creates a unique or breakthrough sound right out of the gate is a rare and wonderful thing, but often, what makes that sound so special also traps the performer inside of a self-designed cage. Think of all the jokes about the Ramones or AC/DC having made the same album over and over again. The joke doesn’t change the fact that each made excellent music throughout their careers and that nearly every album they produced had at least one perfect statement of the sound that they created.
The Letterman performance was never the full story. When Future Islands performed the soon-to-be smash single "Seasons (Waiting on You)" in March 2014, the band went viral in a way that indie rock bands didn't at that time and haven't since. Frontman Samuel T. Herring captivated the world with his intensity, passion, and dated dance moves, and the band catapulted to the upper tier of indie rock, moving up to the top lines of festival billing and having their 4AD debut, Singles, land on the Billboard charts in the top 40.
S amuel T Herring's hiccupping vocal mannerisms recall the late-night ennui of Tindersticks' Stuart Staples, and what Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer might once have described as "singing in the club style". Along with Herring's distinctive delivery, Future Islands' appeal rests on their anthemic love songs. The Baltimore band's 2014 single Seasons (Waiting on You) topped end-of-year polls, and tracks on The Far Field such as Cave share a similar tempo, wearily lovelorn lyrics and impassioned pitch.
Future Islands's Samuel T. Herring is obsessed with perpetual motion. His lyrics often revolve around the relentless churn of nature's forces and time's unyielding flow, and this fixation on all things kinetic continues unabated on the Baltimore synth-pop band's The Far Field. This is an album preoccupied with traveling long roads in pursuit of the unobtainable and racing to embrace transcendent moments of fleeting human connection.
Circles. Fucking circles, I tell you. Three years ago, Xiu Xiu and Future Islands both dropped albums in the same month. One was a fucking nightmare, and I mean that as a bona fide compliment. The other was a fucking narcotic, an opal opioid bubble wherein normalcore enthusiast (remember normalcore ….
Pretty much exactly what I expected, but for once, that’s not a knock against the album. Future Islands proved their synthpop aptitude with 2014’s Singles, and “Seasons (Waiting On You)” still holds up as one of the best pop songs of the past five years. On The Far Field, the band doesn’t go anywhere new, but they haven’t started treading water just yet.
In one fell swoop Future Islands went from a powerful underground force to a bona fide viral success. Invited to perform on The Late Show with David Letterman, the genial host glinted at the camera before making way for a performance of 'Seasons (Waiting On You)' that leaped, belched, swooned, gurned, slurped, and thrilled its way across the internet. Pushed from the outskirts to the main stage, Future Islands were an unlikely success story.
The first hour or so at the wheel on a road trip, you feel invincible. Like you could drive for days. A couple of hours later, the rolling monotony starts to wear. Not long after that, your legs cramp, your butt aches, and your mind starts to drift away into an empty nothing. That doesn't get much ….
Future Islands practice a kind of synth-pop asceticism. Over four albums and eleven years, the beloved Baltimore band have worked exclusively with a small handful of sounds: a tuneful and focused bottom end from the Peter Hook school of bass guitar; the reliable thwack of a snare drum on the second and fourth beat of every measure; one synth sound playing chords while another plinks out a wistful countermelody. The band adheres to the strictures of their chosen idiom with the devotion of folk music preservationists, playing through the repertoire of some lost culture whose sacred texts were "Age of Consent" and "Take on Me.