Future Islands are a synth-pop three-piece from Baltimore who have been slogging around the city's indie scene since 2006, and are now experiencing an unprecedented media blitz towards them thanks to a GIF. Such is the way the weird, weird world of the web operates in 2014, with years of hard work and great music going unnoticed, but one wacky dance move on a late night TV show ensuring exposure. But here we are, at the pre-release of Future Islands' fourth album, and boy, does it live up to the hype, whether it's GIF-driven or the product of a small but rabid fanbase. Stream Singles above, courtesy of Spotify.
With a frontman as enigmatic as Samuel T. Herring, it's easy to see why audiences have latched onto him, even if it was for the wrong (or rather, surface-level) reasons. His voice is powerful, guttural, and just about the last thing you'd expect to hear on a synth-pop song -- the best comparison I can think of is a latter-day Elton John (AKA after he lost the falsetto) doing his best disco diva impression. Whereas most artists in the synth-pop genre veer towards dreamy, chilled-out bliss, Future Islands are standing on a ledge, fists raised, greeting the apocalypse. Without Herring, the band might sound prettier, but no less dramatic.
Future Islands' past releases have been shrouded in a reverb-drenched, lo-fi haze, but with Singles, their first album on legendary British label 4AD, comes a clearer, crystallized sound. That's not to say that this album is any less atmospheric, but this time around, indie master producer Chris Coady (Beach House, Yuck, Smith Westerns) uses reverb less like a protective shield, and more like a dagger. That leads to an absurdly well-rounded sonic landscape, a place where funky basslines, "Take My Breath Away"-sized synths, violins, and even a black metal scream or two (on "Fall From Grace") can coexist happily.
Though Future Islands' coming-out party has been raging since their oddly-famous Letterman performance, Singles is the best album it could have possibly coincided with. There's something here for everyone, from the scorched-earth approach of lead-off song (and single) "Seasons (Waiting on You)," to the nostalgic lamentation of "Song For Our Grandfathers," to the aforementioned, foreboding "Fall From Grace" (my personal favorite). This is a fantastic entry point to Future Islands' unique brand of synth-pop, and a crowning jewel on top of everything they've released to date. Don't sleep on this one, kids.
Preorder Singles on iTunes.