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 411mania » Music » Album Reviews

Future Islands - Singles Review
Posted by Daniel Wilcox on 03.25.2014

RIP Dave Brockie


Future Islands are:
Samuel Herring – vocals
William Gashion – guitars
Gerrit Welmers – keyboards

Future IslandsSingles

Track listing:
1. Seasons (Waiting On You)
2. Spirit
3. Sun in the Morning
4. Doves
5. Back in the Tall Grass
6. A Song For Our Godfathers
7. Light House
8. Like the Moon
9. Fall From Grace
10. A Dream of You and Me
Running time: 41:37

If you're putting out a record that does not consist of previously released singles, naming said record Singles a peculiar move. But that's exactly what Future Islands have done. Singles is album number four from the new wave trio of Samuel T. Herring, William Gashion and Gerrit Welmers. Yet, all these songs are completely new so the band must be trying to tell us something. Is it that all of these tracks are worthy of being singles? Maybe, but that seems a little bit preposterous even for the extravagant Sam Herring. Considering previous records have had strong themes of relationships and break-ups, maybe Singles is a continuation of such themes and is describe single people. But then in that instance, “single” isn't used as a noun so that seems like a pretty roundabout way of doing things. But then, on listening to the record and taking on board everything that it has to offer, it becomes clear that this record is a culmination of a journey for a band that has spent several years attempting to define its sound, both in terms of the music it produces and they way it is produced. There's several tweaks here in comparison to previous efforts, and it seems as though Future Islands have finally got it absolutely right. And what does an artists do when they've done everything absolutely right? The artist releases Singles.

Future Islands are no strangers to change. In the last few years alone, the band has left their minor label in favour of 4AD. Having done that, the band has traded in small venues for much, much larger ones and ones that are packed with people who know their songs as opposed to a few hundred showing minor interest in those on stage. The band also made its late night television debut a few weeks ago. And when you get your first glimpse of Singles it's clear that while many things have indeed changed, the band is still the same and the song's are just as good as they ever were. What Singles does boast is a cleaner, more polished level of production, and that is something that the band has been working on and putting added focus on with each new record. Singles signifies that they've reached a pinnacle in terms of where the production can take them and now it all relies on the quality of the songs to bring them successes. Thankfully, with takes like lead single “Seasons (Waiting On You)” and the frantic “Light House” there's no chance of this band losing its authenticity.

Despite the potentially confusing title, Singles offers up little in the way of soaring choruses or mammoth pop hooks that are likely to garner significant airplay in the traditional sense and yet somehow this remains the band's most accessible album to date. That's largely thanks to the undeniable grooves that make up the bulk of the record. Gashion works his unmistakeable magic on “Seasons,” with these intangible struts criss-crossing like neon air-trails forming rainbows in a blackened sky. The pop scene in 2014 is made up of pretty straightforward artists making pretty straight forward music, but Future Islands lend a glistening eccentricity that borrows heartily from the 80s but does so in way that makes Singles all the more essential. The songs on Singles come with such intensity that it takes a gargantuan effort to them off – they're addictive from start to finish, not just in brief spurts at 45-second intervals. From opening belter “Seasons” to the arousing closing effort “A Dream of You and Me,” Singles is a completely cathartic experience that demands multiple listens.

What the album perhaps lacks in memorable hooks, it more than makes up for in tracks that force you to move, whether that's physically or emotionally. The concept of combining these up-tempo and scattered drumbeats with a penetrating basslines is hardly something new, but it is something that Future Islands do incredibly well. You could remove the vocal element from this album altogether and you would find yourself with an extremely enjoyable new wave dance record that pays homage to 80s synth pop while still feeling right at home in the present day. Of course, the vocal stylings of Samuel Herring bring in a whole horde of new and exciting elements all together. From his wisdom-filled barking on the ambient “Like the Moon” to his hurried, breathless pleas on “Sun in the Morning,” Herring offers up something new and exciting with every three-four minute screen of synthscapes and nostalgia. If you watched Future Islands' performance on Letterman recently you will be familiar with Herring's flare for the over-the-top and the rambunctious. Nothing phases this man, and his confidence gives his delivery weight that it would otherwise lack. His broken-hearted musings are what has made the band's previous records stand out and the story is much the same here, though the added production will undoubtedly help said musings reach a wider audience.

Lyrically, the results are somewhat erratic on Singles. The lyrics range from the ambiguous and witty on “Back in the Tall Grass,” to somewhat vague and altogether redundant on the aforementioned “Like the Moon.” Sometimes this doesn't matter though, because we're forced to pay attention to a vocal that wouldn't sound out of place on a West End stage performing a psychedelic new wave version of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. Moments when Herring's vocal erupts into a monstrous growl such as on the penultimate offering “Fall From Grace,” should come as a surprise, but the delights of the melodramatic cuts throughout lead us to expect something extravagant and we're given exactly that. The moments of melancholy are delivered with such effortless precision in tandem with these uplifting synths and dreamy basslines that we never know exactly what to expect next, but we know it's going to be brilliant. Long-time fans will be used to such morbidly romantic ramblings by now, but with the glitzy production and some brilliant marketing, Future Islands is a band that is likely to take he world by storm in 2014.

Future Islands - “Season (Waiting On You)” [Live on Letterman]

The 411: Future Islands' fourth record Singles is going to be a successful album, not least because of the band's show-stopping performance on Letterman that seems to have everybody talking. The record's success will also have been helped by the reports of the SXSW performance that also won the band awards and kept their name on the tip of everyone's tongue. These factors will ensure Singles is the band's true breakthrough. But the undeniable quality of the songs will be what keeps Future Islands in everyone's mind for a long time to come. The band has benefited greatly from working with a producer who has done great things for the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio, but it's their gift for making infectious electropop that will keep people coming back for me. One of the pop records of the year.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  9.0   [  Amazing ]  legend


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