In one fell swoop Future Islands went from a powerful underground force to a bona fide viral success. Invited to perform on The Late Show with David Letterman, the genial host glinted at the camera before making way for a performance of ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ that leaped, belched, swooned, gurned, slurped, and thrilled its way across the internet.
Pushed from the outskirts to the main stage, Future Islands were an unlikely success story. Given their newfound prominence, though, one question begged to be asked: where now?
New album ‘The Far Field’ – their fifth under the Future Islands name – is the end point of that process of semi-stardom, and it’s a mixed transition that nods towards their roots whilst also pulling somewhere rather different.
The title itself echoes their third LP by half-inching a line of poetry from Theodore Roethke, while former band member Kymia Nawabi designed the cover art. So far, so referential.
The progressions, where they can found, are rather more subtle. Live performances place emphasis on Samuel T. Herring’s rather unlikely star quality, yet this feels very much like a band record – indeed, some of the most impressive moments can be found in the driving drum sound, or that rock hard bass.
‘Aladdin’ squirms and writhes, while ‘Ran’ seems to push itself until legs melt and lungs threaten to burst. ‘North Star’ is rather more sedate, while the trickles of synthesiser that overcome ‘Ancient Water’ hark back to those years spent absorbing Yello or OMD.
It’s an album that makes sense within the past two years of the band’s career, but can at times feel a little too safe for its own good. The pace rarely goes beyond mid-tempo, a well-worn formula that Future Islands have long since become adept at but rarely feels truly challenging.
The appearance of Debbie Harry on ‘Shadows’ adds a rare dash of the unexpected, a platinum blonde streak of glamour amid a ponderous mid-section on a record that tends to favour the subdued over the ostentatious.
None of this is to suggest that ‘The Far Field’ is a bad album per se; the songwriting is strong without being spectacular, and John Congleton’s production offers clarity but is somewhat lacking in edge.
Rather, ‘The Far Field’ seems to fall victim to its own history. In failing to move beyond their catalogue Future Islands can at times feel as though they are simply treading water, honing a template rather than establishing something new.
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