Future Islands The Far Field(4AD) Buy it from Insound
How do you follow up an album like Singles? Future Islands' fourth record was their long-awaited breakthrough, riding on the back of Seasons (Waiting on You). What would The Far Field bring? Some artists, when they achieve massive acclaim, change their sound to avoid repetition. While Future Islands stay in their wheelhouse, they respond to success by writing some of the best songs of their career.
The Far Field offers a collection of 12 more synth-fueled tracks that tug at the fears, insecurities and joys of humanity. It's an album that's willing to dive a little deeper into the darkness, to find what light shines in those depths. The result is a powerful showcase for Samuel T. Herring, while giving the rest of the band plenty of space to build out future favorites.
If you want to sum up this album in one song, play Time on Her Side. A springy bass works off digital arpeggio lines, a soundscape for Herring's evocative lyrics. "She’s a garden rose and blossoms head to toe/And even when she leaves her golden shadow stings/I can’t beat it/Every time she goes, cuts me even deeper," he sings, before the band slides into another memorable chorus. You will catch yourself humming this one throughout your day. Everything comes together on Ran as well: the rapid snaps of drumsticks, the smooth bass groove, glittering synths and guttural vocals. Not only is it catchy, but the theme of chasing love or chasing your dream is empathetic. So is the conflict that arises between the two pursuits on Beauty of the Road.
The passionate centerpieces of The Far Field are Cave and Through the Roses. Both songs are about the challenges of being human; how losses and circumstances can overwhelm. On the former, expansive synths spread out endlessly as Herring gives his best vocal performance yet. And that's saying a lot. When he sings, "I don't believe anymore," it feels ripped from his soul. The words and emotion come out stronger and stronger as the number glides to its conclusion. But in Through the Roses, he finds strength in others: "I don't know what to do/I’m scared/But we can pull through, together."
Future Islands also aren't afraid to pull from their influences. If Peter Gabriel wrote So in 2017 instead of 1986, it would sound like North Star. It's got an undeniable 80s rhythm and pulse, but filtered through modern production. The opener, Aladdin, is similar, combining a New Order vibe with the band's natural bounce.
The record loses a bit of steam towards the end. The slow burn of Candles fails to connect and Day Glow Fire doesn't have more than energy going for it. But Shadows redeems the back half with a sublime guest vocal by Debbie Harry. Her performance interweaves beautifully with Herring's. "The light setting, in the corner of your room/It’s more than enough, for me and for you," she sings, pulling him out of the darkness.
The Far Field is a cathartic listen, an album that wears its emotions on its sleeve. It's all here, the good times and bad, the hope and despair, laid out for all to see and feel. It's rare that you hear albums that brazenly bear their writers' soul, while remaining this effortlessly enjoyable. Outside of the grooves and melodies, that is Future Islands' greatest gift. At one point, Herring sings, "It's not easy, just being human." With albums like this in the world, though, it makes life a little easier.17 April, 2017 - 00:40 — Joe Marvilli