By Alexandra Fileccia
Baltimore’s new-wave trio Future Islands released their new album worldwide on March 25. Recently recorded on the famed indie label 4AD, Singles celebrates the band’s debut to their new career direction. The band, previously signed to Thrill Jockey, found a balance in Singles between a mainstream indie sound and their usual eccentric, soulful sound. Some may call it selling out because of the upbeat tempos and overall pop feel, but it’s a new take on Future Islands’s already distinguished sound. And it’s something worth taking a closer listen to.
Singles pulls from images of nature to create one long, emotional poem. The progression of tracks on Singles tells the story of a breakup. The album takes the listeners on a date with heartbreak that most of us are familiar with and afterwards leaves us to reminisce.
The album opens with “Seasons (Waiting on You).” The leading track is nothing compared to “Walking Through That Door,” which opens In Evening Air (2010), but “Seasons” has an upbeat tune with danceable synth-pop beats. Bassist William Cashion hooks the listener in with his steady, funky eighth notes. The song establishes the mood for the album—a sort of dreamy, nostalgic feel.
In the first few songs, the relationship is good. “Sun in the Morning,” the third track, shows how much the narrator admires his lover. “Mine all mine/ Wander/ A way we go/ Over lines/ I won’t let go, she knows why/ She feeds my soul/ She feeds my mind.” Here,“she” captivates the narrator, and the two share a mutual love.
The middle of the album rocks the hardest instrumentally—ironically when the relationship begins to crumble—starting with “Doves” and ending with “Light House.” Though “Doves” doesn’t offer much in the way of lyrics aside from frontman Samual T. Herring’s grizzly howls during the bridge, the song brings a simple groove to the album. Cashion’s bass, with its bouncy funk under the verse, takes the main stage yet again.
The most notable characteristic on the album is Herring’s throaty belting. Previous Future Islands albums hinted at Herring’s vocal potential, but only Singles delivers it full force. “Back in the Tall Grass” is a prime example. Herring starts the song with a deep croon and slowly builds up the power in his voice. He begins the chorus with a whispered “and I,” which transitions into the passionate belting of “wanted you to know/ I was thinking about you/ And you look like a rose.” On the words “you” and “rose” at the end of each phrase, Herring plays with the length of the words, differently each time he sings the chorus. In his hound-like voice, the listener can feel a lust so intense it physically hurts, especially in songs like “Lighthouse.”
No song is objectively bad, per se, but “Fall From Grace” stands as one of the weaker tracks on the album. It showcases Herring’s attempt at scream-singing, which appeared previously in the Future Islands’ single “Tomorrow” and a little bit toward the end of “Back in the Tall Grass.” “Fall From Grace” serves as the token ballad of the album, but nothing stand out on the track to make it a great song. It just exists. The screaming of “Was it all inside of me?” is too jarring to fit with the rest of the album’s songs.
Even the preceding track, “Like the Moon,” redeems its repeated lyrics and almost five-minute clock-in time with the bridge, “Making a home in my body/ Letting it grow in my body/ Taking these chains from my body/ Letting it go from my body/ Letting it go from my body/ Taking these chains from my body/ Is harder than you know.” Each line builds up this anger until the singer is freed from his emotional chains.
The album finishes strongly with “A Dream of You and Me,” where the singer finally comes to peace with himself and everything that happened through the album; the singer no longer denies the breakup and succumbs to depressing realizations. The verse opens, “I wrestled by the sea/ A loneliness in me/ I asked myself for peace/ And found it at my feet/ Staring at the sea.” Herring plays around with this verse throughout the song and changes it slightly every time he sings, “I wrestled by the sea/ A dream of you and me/ I let it go from me/ It washed up at my feet/ Staring at the sea.” “A Dream of You and Me” serves as a point of reflection within the greater album. Picture Herring in his white V-neck sitting on a boulder on a beach thinking about his life—a very distinct image to end on.
Singles takes a step toward fame for Future Islands while staying true to their underground Baltimore origins. With an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman and their popularity rising—partly due to the bigger record label—we can only anticipate the greatness of Future Islands’ next album. As a band, they have come a long way from their beginnings in 2006, and things are only looking up for them.