Photo: Justin Flythe / Courtesy of 4AD Records

Future Islands Continue to Soar on ‘As Long As You Are’

Future Islands' sixth album, As Long As You Are, is more of the same -- deeply confessional synthpop -- and that's a beautiful thing.

As Long As You Are
Future Islands
09 October 2020

Listening to Future Islands is like stepping into a time machine. Their sound is awash in clean synths, pulsing, dancefloor-ready bass lines, and understated beats that wouldn’t sound out of place on your favorite 1980s-era mixtape. Adding to this is perhaps the band’s most recognizable sound: the vocals of Samuel T. Herring. The charismatic singer approaches the songs with a mixture of Bryan Ferry’s romantic croon, Morrissey’s unabashed emotional idiosyncrasies, and a seemingly out-of-place growl that allows him to place his unique stamp on everything.

This combination has served Future Islands well over several albums, and with As Long As You Are – their first album since 2017’s The Far Field – they continue to mine that sound, mixing classic synthpop with deeply emotive and poetic lyrics. This time around, touring drummer Michael Lowry is in place as an official band member, joining Herring, keyboardist/programmer Gerrit Welmers, and bassist William Cashion on 11 new songs that don’t redefine the band, but rather strengthen their signature sound.

Anyone who became a fan of Future Islands after watching their stunning, iconic 2014 performance of “Seasons (Waiting on You)” on The Late Show with David Letterman — an anthemic moment with Herring prowling the stage, dancing like an unhinged aerobics instructor, belting out the lyrics and beating his chest — may be slightly disappointed by the more subtle approach on As Long As You Are. But this is by no means a step-down. The music is deeply felt and endlessly sophisticated without being pretentious or detached. Opening with the sounds of seagulls on “Glada”, Herring dives into aquatic metaphors: “Who am I? / Do I deserve the sea again? / The slow lapping waves / Bathing my face in light.” Future Islands’ major strength is how they marry Herring’s emotional and poetic wailing with synthetic yet sympathetic backing.

Throughout As Long As You Are, Future Islands seem comfortable shifting moods and tempi. The gentle balladry of “Glada” is followed by the driving single “For Sure” as Cashion’s playful basslines dance all over the beat and cooing backing harmonies support Herring’s belting in the chorus. The pace becomes frenetic on the breakneck synthpop of “Waking”, as Herring waxes positivity: “To be yourself / To see yourself / To see the world is to wake brand new.”

Some of the album’s other highlights include the gentle “City’s Face”, a ballad that’s delivered with a light, sophisticated touch and sounds almost like a lost track from Roxy Music’s Avalon. Then there’s the swaggering, airtight funk of “The Painter”, and the winsome closing track “Hit the Coast”, in which Herring accepts the end of a relationship and equates it with his love of music. “Pressing play on this old tape was a bad move,” he sings. “Reduced to hiss / This record I loved / Some record I’ve missed / Just static – an absence.” The song ends abruptly with the clunky sound of a cassette player hitting “stop.” It’s an appropriate closing moment for an album that pays tribute to the past while emotionally resonant and sonically thrilling.

RATING 8 / 10