Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
A distant sound, getting closer and closer. A familiar sound? Of course! As William Cashion’s bass kicks in on opening track ‘Aladdin’ you know immediately what to expect from the next 45 minutes of The Far Field. Future Islands have cornered the market on soaring, uplifting synthpop, a trademark sound they’ve continued from 2014’s breakthrough Singles. Whilst not straying far from the blueprint of their success, instead it feels like the Baltimore trio have found their niche as Samuel T. Herring and co. clamber into their time machine and take you directly back to the synthpop heyday of the 1980s, yet keeping with their own fresh modern twist.
It is worth pointing out that this is the first record Future Islands have put out fully-aware of the eager anticipation to hear what they can do next. The band have come a long way from their once obscure Baltimore synthpop status to become festival-season favourites. It has been a big three years for the group following the moment Samuel T. Herring dad-danced his way into our hearts during a performance of ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’ on the Letterman show (a video that went viral on social media) and planted his band well and truly on the map. Fast-forward to 2017 and Future Islands have earnt their rightful place atop the Green Man bill this year, alongside slots at many of the world’s biggest festival including a certain Worthy Farm bash and Californian dessert party.
For fans of Singles, The Far Field ought not to disappoint as Future Islands offer out a barrage of anthemic bangers complete with the usual pulsating synths and exquisite bass lines that we’ve come to expect from the band. Hiding the undertones of sadness and lost love underneath a triumphant soundscape of glistening electronics. Lead single ‘Ran’ hits early as Herring sings of the difficulty of maintaining his relationship whilst on the road. ‘On these roads. Out of love, so it goes’ he cries in one of the albums many honest moments. Epic flashes come thick and fast however, with the choruses of ‘Time on her side’ and ‘Cave’ up there with some of the band’s greatest.
“A track that much-like a lot of the other songs off The Far Field grows to a point of bursting, before exploding into a wondrous firework of magnificent pop splendour.”
One fair criticism of The Far Field would be the simplicity of Herring’s (sometimes comical) lovelorn lyrics. Not renowned for his lyrical adeptness, lines like “Hurricanes can’t keep me away from you/ fire and chains can’t keep me away from you” on ‘North Star’ come across as pretty preposterous. That’s not to knock ‘North Star’ as a song which is a joyous, tropical blend of synths and a distinctly LCD Soundsytem indebted cow-bell. It’s just you feel such lyrical inanity at times does to some extent limit Future Islands in their potential for pushing beyond the niche they find themselves in and continuing to progress. However, some may argue that’s not what the band intends. Herring and co. seem more than happy with their current brand of epically scaled pompous synthpop, and rightly so, it makes for an enriching and fun listen. You just wonder if maybe, perhaps there could be more. That’s not to say there isn’t a haunting devastation to songs like ‘Through the Roses’ and ‘Ran’ which revel in their simplicity. ‘Cave’ in particular sees Herring question “Is this a desperate wish for dying, or a wish that dying cease?” a shattering lyric that reflects the mournful tone of the record and arguably the most poetic line of The Far Field.
The record flies through at a high-octane pace, galloping through ‘Ancient Water’ and ‘Day Glow Fire’ only stopping for breath on ‘Candles’ with the stride momentarily slowing as Herring croons over a lover above the slow-burning soundscape of glacial synthesisers and wandering bass. A further highlight comes in the form of penultimate track ‘Shadows’, a song that features New Wave royalty Debbie Harry (of Blondie) lending her voice to compliment Herring’s distinct baritone. A track that much-like a lot of the other songs off The Far Field grows to a point of bursting before exploding into a wondrous firework of magnificent pop splendour.
Whilst not breaking the mould they so fervently set out on Singles, this is a record that foregrounds their status. Instead Future Islands built on their established framework to carve 12 succinct pop songs that work arguably better as a collection than the songs of Singles did. The pure passion of Future Islands is admirable and infectious, as The Far Field delivers its themes of heartache with such unwavering vigour it’s hard not to punch the air along to its soaring choruses. It requires significant talent to make an album so delicate yet so danceable.
Best Tracks: ‘Ran’, ‘Shadows’