In 2014 Future Islands bulldozed their way into our collective consciousness with a performance so affecting and powerful that everyone, including your own mother, could be heard (generally from behind closed doors) straining their vocal chords into their first ever doom growl. It was a performance so persuasive and compelling that people, including Late Night host David Letterman, could barely contain their astonishment that they were hearing this band for the first time.
That performance also proved to be a powerful catalyst. Seasons (Waiting on You) was named best track of the year by Pitchfork, NME and SPIN and the accompanying album Singles was both a commercial and critical success.
The Far Field is the band’s highly anticipated follow-up and it hits like a hurricane; just perhaps not the hurricane you were expecting.
The Far Field from Future Islands is an emotional tour de force, focusing on grief and heartbreak with uncommon clarity and maturity.
For those familiar with Future Islands, the music on The Far Field will not be particularly surprising. The band continue with their trademark synth-pop that drives and swells in lush, glorious fashion. That said, a few tweaks have been made to their already winning formula.
This is the first Future Islands album to feature live drums, and while not attention grabbing, they contribute nicely to the established rhythm section. Some tasteful string arrangements are also present on a number of tracks, however, when mixed in with the ever present synths they rarely come to the fore.
It’s an important feature of the band’s sound that individual musical elements are seldom placed on a pedestal. The underlying philosophy is that of a well oiled, communistic machine.
Each part combines to create a balanced and unified whole. Each part, that is, except for one.
Samuel Herring is a dynamic frontman capable of vocal feats most wouldn’t dare try. He is a force of nature that could tear the whole place apart if he wanted to, and it would be impressive as hell. However, his greatest strength, and indeed that of the whole band, is that despite his fire he never loses sight of the sun.
He has a songwriter’s heart despite his obvious prowess as a performer, and his restraint makes the album all the more profound.
When an album spends as much time examining heartbreak as this one, it’s not uncommon that a certain degree of nastiness finds its way into the lyrics. Accusations and feelings of angst are understandable when an artist is writing from a place of such vulnerability.
However, it’s to Herring’s credit that the lyrics of The Far Field rarely succumb to this trope.
He conducts himself with dignity, despite his bruised heart, and this ultimately leads to a more complex and rewarding experience for the listener. This notion is beautifully present when Herring sings;
“I just wonder if I’m on her mind,
As she’s on mine all the time,
And I want her to know that I’m on her side”
This exposes the emotional core of The Far Field, and inadvertently the healing potential of art. I can think of no greater reason to recommend an album. Especially when, in this case, the music that propels the sentiment is so emphatic and elegant.