I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a strange year, with not a lot to smile about. That’s where Future Islands come in. Boasting a new drummer in Mike Lowry and a new full-length album As Long as You Are, The Baltimore synth pop/rock royalty are at it again. I have been a big fan of Future Islands since THAT performance on a US talk show so I jumped at the chance to review their latest work.
I only mention that Future Islands came to my attention via a viral video to illustrate that the band are so much more than that. This is what brought them into my ears but after going back and investigating, you see that they have more layers to them than Gerrit Welmer’s floating synths. This is apparent in their new offering as they cover issues from toxic relationships, body dysmorphia, US gun control, growing up in North Carolina and finding peace in love, all in that inimitable Future Islands style.
The album begins with ‘Glada’ a wistful, lilting track which seems to find vocalist Samuel T. Herring (a man who could read the phone book to me and I would drift off into a delighted slumber) having something of an existential crisis, almost as if dealing with his band’s success has been a struggle: “Heaven’s a mystery, unless you’re a star. Unless you’ve a crown”. However, one of the band’s skills is that they still manage to make a song seem upbeat despite a heavy subject matter. This is mainly down to Welmer’s synth and William Cashion’s skills on the bass.
This juxtaposition of light and dark continues on the next track ‘For Sure’, although this one is a lot more hopeful than the opening track. There is a real beauty in the line “I will never keep you from an open door” which seems to carry a real sense of letting go of something or someone with no animosity and a genuine feeling of acceptance and respect. This is the lead single of the album and really harks back to classic Future Islands, with the swelling synth and focussed drum and bass which really drive the track forward. Personally, this is my favourite on the album.
Things slow down and become a little more pensive on ‘I Knew You’. Musically, this is a much darker affair, with haunting, gloomy synth and a distant metronome of a drumbeat. As the song is about trying to end a toxic relationship- I suppose it would seem crass to have some pop synth and cheery sound effects, but they manage to handle it very tastefully and while showing some real emotion the song lacks the vitriol that you would normally associate with escaping this kind of situation.
On the track ‘Waking’, Future Islands are back to their chest-thumping best. The gliding bassline is accompanied by rising synths and just some of Herring’s extensive vocal range. The song still has that underlying tone of self-doubt but offers up a bit of hope that you really can do it. You can just see Herring as an erratic motivational speaker as he tells you ‘To be yourself, To see yourself, To see the world — is to wake brand new’. There is a real cathartic feeling to this song as they seem to be answering their own doubts.
I could wax lyrical about every track on this record, but it would go on forever and I want you to find out for yourself! There is a real sense that they have left nothing in the tank when creating this work. There are some moments of real emotion and some very raw truths laid out on this album. Future Islands have unapologetically shown who they are and As long as they are then I’m here for it.
Order the album via Bandcamp.