“Nobody’s gonna pick me up / I’m falling down / And I’m 5th Street bound,” Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring cries like a man being pulled through broken glass on sombre recent single ‘Thrill’. If the Baltimore synth band’s last LP ‘The Far Field’ was their so-called “driving album”, as they put it to NME at the time, ‘As Long As You Are’ sees them spinning off the tracks and reaching for the bottle. Gone are the instant anthems doused in Herring’s familiar growl; in come broken ballads racked with haunting memories.
Herring’s vocals, too, are more restrained and introspective than we’ve come to expect. In ‘As Long’, he’s clearly a man who’s had his wings burned. This is nowhere truer than on the brutal ‘I Knew You’ and the haunting ‘City’s Face’. These two toxic tales depict the tortured frontman reflecting on his past relationships as he quivers: “We walked into the pines / And sat amongst the graves / You told me you’d been fine / Since I poisoned your life,” on the former while on the latter he bitterly cries: “I believed, for too long / What you did to me, wasn’t wrong / I grew to hate you / And this place too” over downbeat synth stabs.
For all its anguish though, the album features both joy and bangers. Standout track ‘Waking’, with its pulsing basslines and widescreen 80s synths, sits perfectly alongside the likes of 2014 breakthrough single ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’. The rollicking ‘For Sure’ wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘The Far Field’, either, as Herring infectiously chants: “I will never keep you from an open door / I know, you know / That’s how much I feel in everything you are”. Both tracks find the charismatic frontman at his most buoyant as his gravelly growl returns to crack through the sadness.
There’s real beauty to be found in some of the album’s bleaker moments, too. ‘Thrill’ is easily the most heartbreaking ballad Herring has penned, but there’s a real sweetness to its sound. Opener ‘Glada’, meanwhile, may deliver the crushing line, “Do I deserve to see the sea again?,” but it does so with lapping, comforting synths.
‘As Long As You Are’ maybe an unexpected handbrake turn for Future Islands and it may not be as hit-laden as its predecessor, but it’s a refreshing record in its own right and one that throws up plenty of existential quandaries.
Release date: October 9
Record label: 4AD