[sic] Magazine

Future Islands – As Long As You Are

After the commercial success of their radio-friendly album Singles, Future IslandsThe Far Field was released back in 2017 and was surprising in how little it then went for it, retreating to bland synth-pop while struggling to balance all the trappings that come with fame. Future Islands’ best weapon, however, has always been their everyday qualities, the knowledge that if they can make it, particularly Samuel T. Herring, their grandaddy of contemporary anti-frontmen, so really can anyone. Herring was heart-broken then though, a shadow of himself, what followed a series of honest vignettes seen through rose-tinted retrospect. In this setting, maybe forgivably, he was overly smooth, his backing too samey, the keys even a bit cheesy in places.

Three years later, As Long As You Are can’t help but be a new chapter, yet there are similarities and surprises are equally rare on the ground. To their credit though, Future Islands still make no great play for the mainstream, their flirtation with it increasingly seemingly like an accident rather by design, happy – if that’s the word – instead to bubble along here with more melancholy, vaguely post-punky new-wave. Musically there’s rarely too much to write home about, but Herring is, at least, on better form, luxuriating in better nuanced crooning than you might expect, a couple of initially unassuming tracks here strong enough to handle themselves after a few spins on the inevitable best-of.

Without doubt, Future Islands have a signature sound and by and large it’s intact here, but they also have a signature singer and he dominates over minimal composition just as much as does more upbeat material. The band’s focal point then, and at his best when impassioned, he and the band are consequently and immediately handcuffed by stadium-sized, slow-burn epics like “I Knew You”, as well as by effervescent synth-pop like “Waking” that conjures uneasy images of speeding around the Caribbean on a jet ski more than it does moping around in the rain in the band’s native Baltimore.

Herring finds more favourable hunting grounds on “Glada” however, his gravelly and varied intonation breathing life into this pretty torch song. It may not be catchy, but it is well constructed – the sort of grown-up synth-pop we can hope to expect from the band in the future perhaps. So too maybe the simmering ambience of “City’s Face”, a track on which Herring laments the changing face of the city he loves, the louche results oddly affecting. And so As Long As You Are goes, jaunty synth oscillations that you can stab out with two fingers lacking weight and overcooked trudges with delusions of grandeur bespoiling an otherwise decent enough running order.

Get past the flotsam then and you can revel in the choppy bass and rousing finale in “Born In A War”. Smile, as Herring is clearly doing, as he revs up for the memorable repeats in “Plastic Beach”. Bathe in the big budget synths, here sympathetically deployed, in “Hit The Coast”, an effective album closer that throws up a shimmering wall that falls away in glistening cascades, Herring backed by strong bass and a dreamy flow. As Long As You Are could well be a stepping stone to somewhere else, but for the time being it’s a marker, evidence of a good band not quite able or willing to become a great one.

Best track: “Glada”

~As Long As You Are is released October 9th 2020 via 4AD.~