Future Islands: Singles

The layperson finally arrived to Future Islands, the question was: What would they find here on the beach of the band's new fame?

Future Islands


Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2014-03-25
UK Release Date: 2014-03-24

"Right time, wrong record," read the text to my phone from a friend who counts as a Future Islands early-adopter. I knew immediately she was referring to the stream of the band's latest album, the misleadingly titled, Singles, that debuted earlier that morning. She had written the only review that would matter, even as Pitchfork rushed to declare the record an "8.0", the band's most favorable write-up to date. The bizarrely compelling Future Islands performance of lead single from Singles, "Seasons (Waiting on You)", from Letterman had already gone viral, the most watched Letterman performance in history. Lead singer, the balding and relatively-speaking "middle-aged" Samuel Herring, especially his weird mixture of sensuality and danger, Morrissey moved to your Dad's basement, appeared built to destroy and survive a place as weird as the Internet. No, he wasn't kidding on Letterman; he's always been this way. The layperson finally arrived to Future Islands. The question was: What would they find here on the beach of the band's new fame? Right time, wrong record.

The two strongest songs on Singles open the record, a distillation of the band's power and efficacy. Riding Herring's gravely pathos through chord resolutions that are as satisfying as anything made with a synthesizer since New Order, the album openers, "Seasons (Waiting on You)" and "Spirit" pulse with sharp hooks. Herring rides the chorus of "Seasons" up, settling the listener back to the verse with delicacy where a bass line ripped straight from New Order's catalogue awaits. Arguably more satisfying, the blinking "Spirit" models the same swirling verses that whip themselves toward a tornado chorus. Herring purrs his way through lyrics like, "for dreams come to those who let them in their guarded room", a not-bad lyrical metaphor for a band about to start playing the biggest rock clubs of their career. It is a satisfying opening couplet of songs, a package that belies some of the weakness of the rest of the record.

Herring isn't out of ideas on buzzing jams like, "Doves" and the surprisingly satisfying "Back in the Tall Grass", the songs asked to anchor the middle of the record, but the plaintive "A Song for Our Grandfathers" reveals an aesthetic exhaustion. You can only send the listener to the top of the room so many times, and though the band searches for this brand of transfiguration -- ironically, a project that seemed so effortless on their previous two releases -- it never quite arrives. The grinding "Fall From Grace" throws its gaze to the floor, a grimy doom-pop that recalls too much of Peter Bretter's fictional Dracula musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. By the end, the listener can easily picture Herring singing, "Die ... I can't". This isn't exactly the serious, heart-break politics of "Seasons" and its charming reminder, "I've been waiting on you". Perhaps a band can only raise the stakes so many times before it runs out of room, ambition, or ideas. By the end of Singles, not only are these not singles, they aren't even the strong Future Islands songs from previous records.

The good news for Herring and his band is that no one seems to care about the relative quality of their latest record. Someone decided that this would be the album that would rocket the band to bigger clubs and at least tens of thousands of record sales. Was it simply their turn? Did we need this to be "the one"? Our relationship to independent rock bands can be poorly timed. Four years ago you could have packed into Death By Audio in Brooklyn, losing and finding some bit of yourself in the band's earlier work. Those moments are gone, and now we have the Letterman performance and a critical consensus that this is Future Islands' big break. There are good songs here to be sure, but a measure of skepticism shouldn't just arise from the band's original fan base. How certain are we that this represents their best work, the height of their powers? Right time, wrong record.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.