If you followed synth-punk monuments Future Islands prior to their 2014 Singles/Letterman explosion – i.e., since their 2008 commercial debut, Wave Like Home, and not counting their oft-forgotten 2006 self-released EP Little Advances – then you’ll already be well aware of what makes them memorable. From the start of their now-storied career, which had them at the forefront of the late-aughts Wham City scene in Baltimore, Future Islands have excelled in crafting sweet-and-sour synth melodies bolstered by New Order-worthy bass lines. And, of course, there’s lead singer Samuel T. Herring’s chest-beating growl and unblinking blend of insight and earnestness, which finally earned the appropriate accolades upon the release of Future Islands’ aforementioned breakout record, and its crown jewel of a single, “Seasons (Waiting on You).”
Three years later, we at last have a follow-up, The Far Field, produced John Congleton (Angel Olsen, Spoon, The War on Drugs). New fans may expect another Singles epiphany — a near-flawless jigsaw puzzle of beats, synths, bass and fervor — but pushed to even higher heights. But longtime listeners may recognize in this new album as a solid continuation what Future Islands have been selling for over a decade.
Is there another “Seasons” here? Not really. There is, though, a burning single called “Cave,” where Gerrit Welmers fans out the synths to create an echoing Blade Runner-like soundscape. The ominous but quick-footed backdrop expertly match and don’t overpower the singer’s existentialist howls of “I don’t be-lie-hee-hee-ve anymore!” There is also the winsome “Ancient Water,” which borrows and builds on the Future Islands synth-bass-beats formula, and the pop-minded, tinkling “North Star,” which finds the ever-heartfelt Herring conceding, “I’ve broken many promises / But this one I would die to keep.” Truly, there doesn’t need to be another “Seasons” when you have so many runners-up on one record.
The hits don’t always keep coming, though. The last few tracks do what a lot of last few tracks tend to do: act extraneous. “Candles” attempts a slow reggae bounce but doesn’t go very high. Blondie’s Debbie Harry pops up with a mostly decent solo spot on the buoyant “Shadows,” but even her legendary caterwaul — which once commanded your immediate return call with just two words — cannot keep up with the force of Hurricane Herring.
Future Islands is a band that knows itself. On every record they’ve honed and tweaked their production, making it cleaner and crisper as time and budget allowed, but they’ve never sacrificed the driving force behind what made them great to begin with. Such unwavering self-assurance will no doubt keep fans two-stepping back to The Far Field — and whatever lies beyond.