Album of the week : Singles - Future Islands

When Future Islands appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman in early March, their four minutes on camera was a real ‘aha’ moment,  not just for the millions that had never heard the band before, but for the band themselves. Their performance of ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’, highlighted by frontman Samuel T. Herring’s resplendent choreography, was so special that not only did the internet explode in esteem, so did Letterman himself

The timing couldn’t have been better for the Baltimore trio. After three albums and countless EPs and singles, it feels like the stars have aligned for their fourth album, because Singles is an awakening. Now signed to 4AD, Future Islands have smoothed out the rawness of their “post-wave” and swollen their arrangements to maximize all the potential they’ve shown over the years

This new found zest is apparent from the off, the squelching synths of opening track and lead single ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’ giving way to a chugging groove and William Cashion’s nimble, dynamic bass. “Seasons change,” croons Herring, the “as have I” coda left unsaid, but very deliberately hanging. Such positivity is reflected in the music, which is fuller and more accomplished. Maybe it’s experience, maybe it’s confidence, but Singles is full of neat little flourishes: the acoustic strumming on ‘Light House’, the ’80s guitar buried under the synths on ‘A Song For Our Grandfathers’, the triumphant horns that accompany ‘Sun In The Morning’s’ chorus

They’ve also expanded, adding Denny Bowen - former stick man in Baltimore post-punks Double Dagger - on drums, a change that benefits Cashion as much as the overall sound. With an actual person to play off, his bass no longer needs to act as anchor, flitting instead around the melodies or taking off on flights of fancy. Gone too is the booming kick-drum and the sterile sheen of drum machines; the beats here are organic and natural - ‘Like The Moon’ aside - cymbals gently crashing underneath Gerrit Welmers’ sweet synth washes

‘Doves’ is stuffed with hooks and ’80s stadium-banger choruses, ‘Spirits’ clanks along with krautrock motifs and hypnagogic niblets, sultry exotica paean ‘Like The Moon’ soothes and synth-sermon ‘Fall From Grace’ revels in shadows and screams

And at the centre stands Herring, wounded heart (and pride) on the mend. A centrepiece whose voice, once described as sounding like “Meatloaf serenading Yorick’s skull”, has mellowed to a warm, smooth baritone, the yelps and growls banished to the past.. In terms of appearance (not that you should judge a book by its cover, or more aptly, a band by how they dress) he couldn’t look less like a Topman suited’n’booted frontman that dominates indie-pop/rock nowadays. A cross between Steve Martin and Marlon Brando, he’s 100% atypical. It’s refreshing, liberating and fascinating. It’s endearing too, and rather than alienating like some mad scientist with too many quirks, he manages to be oddly loveable. It’s this enigmatic charisma that’s the lifeblood of Singles. It’s not by any means the be all and end all of the LP, but it’s hard to miss the frenetic quality he brings

Is it possible to come of age so late in the game? Singles comes at that point where a cult band’s upward trajectory is increasingly hard to maintain, and is the album they hope will drive the leap from merely surviving to a more comfortable level of success, financial and otherwise. “We haven’t been working hard for years so that we could not do the big things” Herring recently said, and the effort is paying off; SXSW, Coachella, and Letterman are all being ticked off, and with some aplomb. But none of that would be possible without the tunes, and here Future Islands have crafted the best ten of their career. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and they have emerged, blinking and unbowed, to bask in its glow

Buy it here

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