Monday, April 24, 2017

Future Islands - The Far Field Review

Take this review with a grain of salt. Not the kind of opening statement you'd hear from a reviewer who's enticing you to read further, but it's the truth in this case. Why? Because prior to sitting down with The Far Field, the only Future Islands song that ran through my ears was the infamous 'Seasons (Waiting On You).' A sensational case of Synthpop, 'Seasons' dominated end-of-year lists in 2014, a remarkable achievement in today's age given the fact that their popularity was, and still is, relatively limited. Their name and notoriety didn't cause award-givers to fawn over the single, it was only 'Seasons'' greatness that did the trick. Years down the road I'd be surprised if 'Seasons' wasn't heralded as a 2010's Indie classic, going into the canon of essential listening experiences for the genre. However, for all of which the single achieved, Future Islands sans 'Seasons' hasn't done much. Accused of being severely one-dimensional, the Synthpop trio led by Sam Herring has struggled to welcome new fans as the proverb "you've heard it once, you've heard it all" applies concretely. While the same can be said for The Far Field, with repetition spread all over the record, for a fresh listener like myself, Future Islands' fifth LP is an enjoyable romp through scornful romanticism and entertaining melodies.

However, there's no denying my perception of The Far Field would be drastically different if I had heard Singles, their last LP, or any album before that. Creativity plays a large role in my appreciation of music, and if the stereotype that Future Islands hasn't progressed past their highly-curated starting point is true, then admiration of each respective project is limited. Like a diminishing return, no matter where you start in their discography, the successive projects you check out will be deemed worse, or, at the very least, similar. I say that having not heard any other project because what's contained within The Far Field is indicative enough. The overly-used rolling percussion, Herring's scorched vocals, trembling worries, and a reliance on impassioned crescendos act as three requirements that each track can't live without. From there, minimal details are added to give distinctive qualities, but the process by which this foundation exists seems calculated by nature. As if Future Islands knows exactly how to make a Future Islands song (they do), and instead of trying to diversify they replicate. They're like clones emerging from a factory whose only visual clues for distinction are the clothes they wear.

That's easily the worst aspect of The Far Field. A key piece of the puzzle to note though? Those clones are gorgeous, flawless individuals that are easy on the eyes and charismatic in the heart. The record may be manufactured and devoid of variance, but the ingredients used are fetching, working you to your core. No time is wasted instilling this feeling, as the album's opener 'Aladdin' is a wonderful display of Future Islands' systematic tenderness. The track actually features a unique singing style from Herring, with vocals that feel parched every other word. Other than that 'Aladdin' is by the books, concluding with a monumental build-up that finds Herring pushing through that cottonmouth for our pleasure. Not surprisingly, that occurs elsewhere, like on the two lead singles 'Ran' and 'Cave.' Both equip with boisterous production that relishes in opaque synths bred for an Industrial setting, the singles give a strong indication of The Far Field's overall approach, as almost every song could've been swapped in place without much debate. Really only 'Candles' couldn't be considered a potential single, as the noticeably slow placing contradicts every other song on the LP.

For Synthpop purists, The Far Field's focus on delightful melodies and standard structures will excite rather than bore. At its core, music is meant to be enjoyable. Everything else is secondary. Future Islands abides by this formula, as more often than not, Herring's lyrics and topics rarely sidestep the formulaic drudge of angst-ridden love ballads. Escapism seems to be the predominant theme, not surprising given the genre, but also alluring in combination with the fleeting acceleration of the production. Some notable tracks in this regard are 'Time On Her Side' and 'North Star,' two of my favorites. The former etches itself into the 1980's with a magnetic chorus that wouldn't have been out of place during a coming-of-age montage, while the latter travels down a highway, destination unknown. The only shortcoming with 'North Star,' and the vibe of a few others, is the undeniable emulation of Wild Cub's work; namely 'Jonti' and 'Thunder Clatter.' Nonetheless, Future Islands still demonstrates their distinctive skillset, like 'Through The Roses'' unification of Herring's fragile ego and perpetual percussion, or 'Ran's' success with the hulking synth worship and cracked vocals. The Far Field's crisp presentation of Future Islands' specific eminence works in their favor, even when versatility does not.

There is one special instance where Future Islands decisively strays from their norm though, and that's 'Shadows.' Now, without getting too far ahead of ourselves, it's minimal and only due to coercion, thanks in large part to Debbie Harry's presence as duet singer. The Blondie star joins Herring here, and the result is quite endearing. Thanks to Harry an inhalation causes a new, feminine scent to investigate the nostrils, something noticeably different than what we've experienced with Herring the past ten tracks. The two work effortlessly together, and more importantly, feel comfortable over that rolling percussion. In a perfect world, 'Shadows' stands firm as The Far Field's closer. But fractured we are, 'Black Rose' exists, causing the LP to conclude with a noticeable blemish. 12 tracks in, and the shtick had run dry. Without saying or doing anything new, the closing track feels entirely unessential. Along with 'Black Rose,' 'Beauty Of The Road' and 'Ancient Water' round out The Far Field's low points, all failing to provide substance in light of the album's stronger material. When repetition becomes a crutch, there's bound to be moments that struggle to standout. Thankfully for The Far Field, there's more than enough to satiate the mouths of fans who can't get enough of Future Islands' shtick.


  1. Stumbled across your blog via RYM. I agree Seasons could be heralded a modern indie classic, included on my best of the decade so far list:

    It's true Future Islands music is samey, but I'm liking the new album, and it's probable will be in my top 10 by years end.

    1. Hey nice! Yeah I agree, it just has that feel, that 'it' factor for Indie.

      And who knows, while I don't think it'll be top 10 for me, top 20 is definitely feasible. It's an enjoyable album through and through