Album review: Future Islands’ The Far Field

Future Islands’ sound is one that is somewhat hard to explain, you’ll just have to listen.

Lead singer Sam Herring’s sad lyrics tend to contrast with the upbeat, lively mood of the music. In an interview with Slate, Herring said, “Where the songs have always been kind of upbeat and happy, the message is often melancholy. I like it that way, people’s natural instinct is to let their guards down and dance, and then they actually let the words seep in. Instead of running away from the darkness, they embrace the light and find the darkness. I think the opposite is true too.”

In the song “Ran,” Herring sings about love, his life on the road, and the difficulty in balancing both, understood when he sings, “On these roads / Out of love, so it goes / How it feels when we fall, when we fold / How we lose control, on these roads.”

The following track, “Beauty on the Road,” carries a similar theme to “Ran.” The song has been mentioned to be about Herring’s former relationship he had in his early 20s, which came to an end because of troubles caused by constantly being on tour. Herring reflects on the challenges of this relationship, with lyrics like, “Oh, at last! / You’re here in my arms again / And I don’t know how long / So I won’t waste a bit.”

“Candles” is a slower song, where Herring recognizes the pain he causes for his former lover, when he sings, “Where does it go? / This one, for the last time, baby, I know / A little candle like you / Don’t deserve the hurt you’re going through.” Although the remaining songs in the album have more upbeat instrumentals, “Candles” is a nice reprieve and moment of reflection.

“Shadows” features the band Blondie’s vocalist Debbie Harry and is the most impressive track of the album. The song hints at themes that show how memories from the past can affect the intimacy of a future relationship. The song merges 80s synth beats with a strong bassline, with lyrics like, “These old shadows (They’re just shadows) / Crotcheted and trembling, nude / I’m walking a ghost, but I wanna walk next to you.”

In an interview with The Skinny, Herring discussed the process in finding a guest vocalist for the song. He said, “She (Harry) recorded her vocals in New York, so we’ve not actually met her, but I did have the surreal experience of sending some emails back and forth with her. It really made sense because she’s singing from the perspective of this much greater presence, who’s pulling me out of the darkness—so to have somebody so iconic fill that role was what the song needed.”

As compared to Future Islands’ previous album, Seasons, The Far Field sticks to the same formula musically, which I don’t mind. Rather than meddling with a new sound, Future Islands stays with what works, which is songs built around rippling synths and intense basslines. Herring doesn’t change the fact that he expresses raw and honest emotions in his lyrics. If he didn’t, then it just wouldn’t feel right. Future Islands recently told NME that The Far Field to them is like a “driving album”, best enjoyed blasting while on the highway. I definitely agree.

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