After 10 years of steady touring, building relationships with their fans and an undeniably strong work ethic, Future Islands are poised to take over with their new record on 4AD, Singles. Singles is an amazingly crafted group effort (the band is comprised of vocalist Sam Herring, bass/guitarist William Cashion, and keyboardist/programmer Gerrit Welmers). The label’s website notes that the title may be confusing in that it “is not a collection of singles, but is, in fact a completely new full-length record”. That being said, each of the album’s ten songs is extremely powerful in its own right – no one song stands out above the rest, but there is still a cohesiveness to the album.
Opening track “Seasons (Waiting On You)” proves that Future Islands pulled out all the stops for Singles. Herring projects his voice with a newfound intensity, channeling the heart and soul of masters like Redding and Cooke. He pours emotion into the song, through both strained vocals and lyrics: “Seasons change, and I tried hard just to soften you, seasons change, but I found time just to change for you”. The chord progression and structure are unconventional, but the song is still incredibly catchy. “Seasons” has all the watermarks of Future Islands’ earlier records, but is a new landmark in songwriting for the group.
Elsewhere, the band explore the opposite end of the spectrum: minimal, percussive new romantic synth-driven songs. The main hook on “Spirit” bears a resemblance to OMD’s earliest work (think “Electricity”), while projecting a heavy sincerity through Herring’s crooning. “Like The Moon”, which comes in towards the end of the album, is a hazy romp through the dark alleyways seen in so many music videos of the same era. Herring’s lyrics are equally brooding, with lines like “don’t push me out, we don’t have to speak tonight, just don’t say goodnight”. At the end, Herring’s focus becomes insular, repeating of his subject (as he often does at the end of songs) “letting me go from my body, taking these chains from my body”.
Singles is leaps and bounds ahead of Future Islands earlier releases, which is no small feat considering the quality of their previous albums. It will undoubtedly make many year end lists, and is their best album to date.