Future Islands – The Far Field
Future Islands are one of those bands the mainstream came across late. Quick to rectify their mistake, they duly lauded praise on the Baltimore-based band’s radio-friendly 4AD debut, 2014’s aptly named Singles. The problem was, under the harsh glare of repeat listens, it revealed itself as their least strong collection to date despite several hook-laden stand-outs. That all didn’t matter one bit though, because – of cause – frontman Samuel T. Herring crushed his Letterman performance doing “Seasons (Waiting On You)” and the rest, as they say, is history.
After the success that followed, and perhaps surprisingly, the band took a step back into several splinter and guest projects in order to let the new-found heat die down and as a result, to its credit, The Far Field doesn’t slide any further into safe synth-pop, yet it does tread water all the same. This is mostly due to coming to terms with and simultaneously making the most of the trappings that come with fame, which in this case translates to unwelcome string and horn arrangements and, ooh la la, a soft-focus duet with Debbie Harry no less.
Future Islands’ best weapon, however, has always been their everyday qualities, the knowledge that if they can make it so really can anyone. Shiny production and grandiose pop consequently does them few favours and, yet, The Far Field suffers ironically enough from not having a central statement, a big single when Singles was full of them. Maybe it’s because Herring is obviously heartbroken. In fact, it almost certainly is, but his lack of passion often results in synthy New Wave that, while decent enough, does little to convince it needs to exist other than as a form of cathartic pining for its author.
Herring is too world-wise to wallow entirely in self-pity though and knows that if you love something enough you have to set it free. What follows are a series of honest vignettes seen, admittedly, through rose-tinted retrospect. “Time On Her Side” paints lost love in the best of lights, William Cashion’s bubbling bass and Gerrit Welmers’ skittering keyboard programmes sparking the torches towards its climax. The slow funk of “Candles” can’t work out if it wants to laugh or cry. We’ve all been there. Singles was all about “Sun In The Morning”. At almost no point is the sun not setting on The Far Field. Sniff.
In this setting, Herring is overly smooth, his backing too samey, the keys even a bit cheesy in places. First single “Ran” is full of platitudes and literally about chasing after love. “North Star” is one of those yearning songs about the conspiring elements being unable to keep one lover from driving all night to visit another. If you think you’ve heard that one before, you have. Luckily, all is not lost. The much more interesting “Ancient Water” pulls a hard detour with stabbing synths and proper post-punk guitars. The thoroughly forlorn “Through The Roses”, in turn, recognises the power of redemption, its relatively breezy and repeated coda of “We can pull through together” shining through like the silver lining to a wet weekend.
Sandwiched in the middle of the running order, “Cave” offers the only real flash of Herring past as he finally spits a little aggression into the mix. The track’s inevitably a little darker, big floor-drums from new live drummer Michael Lowry helping inject a semblance of steely coldwave and a much-needed dose of edge to proceedings. Let us all hope that, along with the traces of acceptance found on The Far Field, Herring can find a little more of this anger to help him on his road to recovery.
Best track: “Cave”
~The Far Field is released April 7th 2017 via 4AD.~