By Phil Scarisbrick
A melodically-rich, nuanced record that sees frontman, Sam T. Herring, take stock of his past, while pushing forward with the next chapter of his own, and the Future Islands’ story
For many fans in the UK, myself included, our first introduction to Future Islands was their electric performance of Seasons (Waiting On You) on the BBC’s flagship live music show, Later With Jools Holland. For the uninitiated, it was a big shovel of earth tossed aside to unveil a rabbit hole that we’ve been burrowing through ever since. It was one of those joyous moments when you experience a band for the first time and know straight away that they’re making music that goes straight to your heart. It’s such a great feeling, and one that cannot be feigned or replicated. Or so I thought.
When the band returned with their first new music in three years in July, I clicked on the link and turned the volume up, and it all came flooding back. The first single off As Long As You Are, the band’s sixth album, was For Sure. It completely recaptured that feeling of hearing the band for the first time again. Sharing many of the same ingredients that made Seasons – and by extension the band themselves – so great, it was the perfect returning single.
Expanding to a four-piece, with drummer Mike Lowry now a full-time member and co-songwriter, the band have instead created an eclectic palette of colours that encapsulate the broad strokes that they cover lyrically. From toxic relationships and body dysmorphia, to growing up in Baltimore and finding inner peace, the album takes stock of so much, yet always seems focussed on pushing forwards.
The opening lines of album opener, Glada, set the wheels in motion on this trajectory as Sam T. Herring’s gravelly baritone sings, ‘New canopies arise/From the crumbling framework/The remnants of fire‘. Far from bursting into life, it smolders with a glowing, ashen aesthetic before crumbling away into the aforementioned For Sure. Born In A War sees Herring looking at his own life and masculinity. ‘Born to an insensitive fool, you’ve been damned by/ You’re scared when a strong man cries/Is when a strong man dies,‘ he sings above a sliding bass groove that glues the fragile pieces together. Rather than finding any definitive answers though, Herring’s voice becomes more and and more irratic before calmly concluding, ‘bloody hell‘.
Waking is a driving synth pop number that sees, perhaps, the most honest lyric that Herring has ever penned. ‘My life, my truth/It’s all I have to give, I gave to you‘, he sings. Who the ‘you‘ is is left open to interpretation. Is it a lover? His bandmates? His audience? Whoever it is, they’re being given the full open wound confessional.
Hit the Coast is probably the highlight of the record, with a pulsing, driven bassline and gorgeous synth melodies under pinning Herring’s nuanced vocal. Reminiscing about the music that he cherished, reduced to static on old tapes, where even the warbling, tarnished notes bring back the memories of what they mean to him. Even with such nostalgia though, he is still pushing on, moving forward as he sings ‘And these days/They’re frying in my backseat/But I’m flying and free‘, before the sound of the stop button on an old tape deck brings the album to a close.
Given their distinctive sound, the dynamic of Future Islands’ records has always felt quite slight. As Long As You Are though makes the most of the band’s key components to create a flowing, melodically-rich and – more than anything – interesting record for us to listen to. ‘As an artist, you always have fears that you’re just gonna get old and then people won’t care,’ says Herring, ‘but this is what we’re supposed to sound like and, to us, it’s the best we’ve ever sounded. As Long As You Are is another step in defining who Future Islands is, and that’s really important.’ It’s hard to argue with that.
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