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Future Islands
Singles Nick Reed , March 25th, 2014 10:58

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You could be forgiven for calling Future Islands overwrought. Hailing from Baltimore, home of the infamous Wham City collective (who subscribe to a strict "more is more" philosophy), there's an air of seriousness about their work that you don't hear in other modern synthpop bands. Their earliest work was almost something of a novelty, playing off the stark contrast between the music and the vocals - while the music often spotlighted bright, catchy keyboard melodies, the vocals sounded straight out of a community college production of King Henry The Eighth. To say that Future Islands singer Sam Herring has a flair for the dramatic is an understatement - he sings everything as though his very life is on the line. While Herring sounded like he was absolutely the wrong man for the job on their first releases (their debut full-length Wave Like Home was entertaining as hell for that very reason), the band soon began to write songs to match, and they've seen a corresponding rise in popularity since.




By now, Future Islands have their sound well figured out - rhythmic, chugging bass lines against wistful, slow burning synths, while Herring alternately croons and growls. If it's synthpop, it's an unusual brand of synthpop; the rhythm often goes over the melody (hence why bassist William Cashion always feels like the lead), and the dusty, reverb-drenched atmospherics sometimes take up more space than the actual song. They don't play fast, but they're focused; there's a level of intensity in their music that's more befitting of metal than any sort of pop. In a genre where many singers try to become "just another instrument", Herring is a true frontman; charismatic, theatrical, and willing to give as much as you're willing to take. He goes over the top and then some, which is truly refreshing in an era of lead singers who have become all-too-self-aware; for Future Islands, it's all about the performance. The result is something that sounds like Peter Hammill fronting New Order - you're not sure whether the music makes you want to dance or weep uncontrollably. You can certainly throw yourself into the rhythm, but it's not exactly background music either; every song here has that show stopping quality that demands your attention.




Most of Singles sticks to what the band does well; if you dig 'Seasons' you'll probably dig the whole album. In a way it almost feels like they're holding back a bit, as their prior LP On The Water felt more adventurous and out there, as though there was no telling what they were truly capable of. Singles dials back the craziness a bit (though there is one rather shocking moment towards the end of the album that I wouldn't dream of spoiling); it's catchier and less moody, but great all the same. They're at an important junction in their career - their prior two albums (2010's In Evening Air and 2011's On The Water) were critically acclaimed, and they've spent years touring and steadily building up their fanbase.

They've managed to parlay all that to a new record deal (with 4AD) and just recently played their television debut on Letterman, giving a performance that already feels legendary. They know that Singles could very well be the album they're judged by, and as such took care to make it as palatable as they could without losing any of their essence. Every song is focused; they're all between 3 1/2 and 5 minutes long, and they mostly follow the same formula. This can lead to the album feeling a bit samey after a while, but the songs are usually strong enough to mitigate that. When it's good, it's really good; we all already know how great lead off track 'Seasons' is (Herring called it "the best thing we've ever written"), but there are other gems here - the punchy torch song 'Back In The Tall Grass' and the massively emotional 'Song For Our Grandfathers' come to mind. True to the album title, most of these songs are lean and refined enough for serious radio play - of course, given the amount of songs about failed love and heartbreak these guys have written, the album title may just refer to the state of the band.



It's the band's willingness to dial back on the heaviness that really marks this album; while their last two albums were almost overwhelmingly emotional, Singles focuses on the hooks first, and as a result this is their most memorable set of songs yet. If you enjoyed 'Balance' from their last LP, just imagine a whole album of that. Wherein the past their lyrics could feel oppressive, here you get at least a glimmer of hope for the future. When Sam sings "People lie, people love, people go / but beauty lies in every soul", there's a real sense of excitement - likewise 'Sun In The Morning' feels like the first relationship song they've done that doesn't end in heart-wrenching disappointment. This makes Singles the first of their albums that really forces the repeat button; as good as In Evening Air and On The Water are, they're so emotionally draining that you don't exactly find yourself in a hurry to play them again right away.

Of course, there's a sense that the band could go even further - though all ten of these songs are good, 'Song For Our Grandfathers' is the one that really transcends, becoming the moment where Future Islands truly feels like the most important band in the universe. A little of that goes a long way, and for now it's nice to hear an album from these guys that doesn't sucker punch you over and over again. Their future is bright now that the Letterman appearance has gone viral (I don't watch the show regularly, but I can't recall Dave ever being that excited over a musical performance), and Singles is the type of album that'll prime them for the next level. They've earned it.

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No Refugee
Mar 25, 2014 4:25pm

The phrase "like death metal." Now that qualifier is as meaningless as "shoegaze."

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Chris McW
Mar 25, 2014 4:56pm

I think Singles is a really well crafted album, but to me it's missing something. I'm sitting here listening to "In Evening Air" and it still resonates to me more as an album

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Mar 25, 2014 5:27pm

I guess I must be getting old or completely out of touch but I think that the reason the Lettermen performance went viral is purely because of how awful it is. Or am I missing something here? Seriously, I watch that clip and think, you utter, utter tosser. And the music is so unbelievably bland that I suppose you need a clown like that twat at the front for anyone to take notice of it.

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Steve Cherries
Mar 25, 2014 5:53pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

I guess you must be getting old....

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Mar 25, 2014 7:46pm

In reply to Steve Cherries:

What a completely baseless, ageist and simply dumb comment that is… a 18 year old hipsters ultimate put down? Yawn (which young people do too).

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Stephen Jackson
Mar 25, 2014 9:00pm

The only other time I've seen Letterman go fizzy over a performance was the admittedly excellent performance of 'Typical' by the Police-esque Mutemath. Dave was much taken by the drummer. Who really put a shift in. http://youtu.be/CNPfEEiGXhI

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Mar 25, 2014 11:18pm

In reply to Steve Cherries:

I mean, really? You think this lot have merit? I really thought the Letterman thing was some kind of comedy routine wherein a bad Marlon Brando impression was inflated by the kind of over-emoting that suggested an OD of the Stanislavsky method. In some respects I suppose this makes my inevitable passing easier to live with as I really don't want to live in a world where this is considered to A Good Thing. Not that I'm planning on popping my clogs any time soon but to have Future Islands, Haim, Lorde and all that blandness and mediocrity fawned really is the equivalent of having a beige cardigan stamped on a human face forever.

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Wa
Mar 26, 2014 4:30am

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

Yea, kinda agree with you. Could only watch the Letterman bit for a minute before tuning out. Bland. Though Leo Dicaprio put on a better mugging performance in Wolf of Wall Street.

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Mar 26, 2014 10:17am

Great record....as is the Lorde record....not keen on the Haim one, but y'know. I can understand people not liking his voice tbf, it's not bland tho...when that black metal vocal comes on Fall From Grace' it's totally wtf. Yeah, I spoiled it, I went there.

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Mar 26, 2014 10:19am

I wanna hear the thrilling sounds that you guys are listening to if this is bland...hit me up, come on.

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Mar 26, 2014 10:34am

In reply to :

Judging by your tone, one can only conclude that you'd shit your pants if you were exposed to any of the teeth-grinding, thrill-packed, seat-of-your-pants joys that regularly soundtrack the vibes chez Leibowitz. And that wouldn't be fair on your mum.

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Mar 26, 2014 10:40am

I imagine it might cause a spate of beard stroking, and I like to leave that to your mum

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Mar 26, 2014 10:40am

YEAH, YOUR MUM!

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M.K.
Mar 26, 2014 12:28pm

I love Future Islands! Btw, Dave has reacted that way to all of the
Killers performances(starting from When You Were Young, Dustland Fairytale, and Runaways). He can also be cruel such as when he was to Animal Collective and Modest Mouse(after they played a b-sde) All dave reactions are well worth watching.

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M.K.
Mar 26, 2014 12:33pm

In reply to M.K.:

B-side*. He was excited and very positive to Bat For Lashes.

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M.K.
Mar 26, 2014 12:38pm

In reply to Wa:

You should have kept watching til the end. You missed out on his metal growl.

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Mar 26, 2014 1:53pm

The Letterman performance was the best thing I've seen in years.
The singer really nailed it.

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Robert Suker
Mar 26, 2014 2:06pm

Stavros P. Leibowitz

Not only does your name suggest you are bellend but you also come across as one as well.

I can only assume leave comments on web pages just as this because actual humans won't interact with you.

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danmac
Mar 26, 2014 2:53pm

Has anybody told Alex Turner about these guys?

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sam
Mar 26, 2014 7:03pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

sounds like tom jones fronting a phoenix cover band. this is godawful.

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John Thomas
Mar 26, 2014 7:22pm

Just watched the Letterman clip, not having heard of this lot before.
The singer's definitely in the wrong band. He deserves music as idiosyncratic as his delivery, and not the horribly dull lift/hold music the rest of them are playing.

He should stop the Dad-dancing though.

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Mar 27, 2014 9:33am

In reply to sam:

Ah - a voice of sanity at last!

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Who cares what Dave likes?
Mar 27, 2014 7:10pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

Stavros, I am completely with you on this. I thought the Letterman incident was one of the worst things I've seen in a long time. And they're on 4AD? I really do not understand how this happened.

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Sean
Apr 4, 2014 4:14pm

In reply to Robert Suker:

He gave his opinion, which I happen t to agree with no need for the childish name calling-idiot.

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Sean
Apr 4, 2014 4:16pm

In reply to Who cares what Dave likes?:

I agree his voice needs different/better music, I cant stand the dance though.

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Apr 6, 2014 4:28am

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

Why don't you namevsomething worthy, then?

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Joanna
Jun 23, 2014 10:03pm

It was refreshingly sincere in an often cynical world.. Thankyou for some thin space

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Drew
Oct 27, 2014 5:11pm

This band are absolute garbage. overhyped, undertalented posers who happened to get lucky. pure and utter shite.

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Drew
Oct 27, 2014 5:12pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

Chuch, bro. This band are pure and utter garbage.

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Rob
Nov 26, 2014 10:25am

In reply to Drew:

I like the band. I am worn out from Iggy Azalea and Justin Timberlake.

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alice
Oct 11, 2015 11:12pm

Gotta love genuine cool when you see it.

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Tracey
Mar 27, 2016 10:14pm

Best front man to grace this planet in a long time. Love future islands x

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