For ‘The Far Field’, Future Islands’ fifth album, the Baltimore trio find themselves in an unfamiliar position. For the first time in their 11-year career, they are making new music knowing a lot of people would hear it.
That hasn’t been the case before. Until their TV performance on the Late Show With David Letterman just over three years ago, they were an underground concern – a band who’d sweated through 800 shows and collected a small but loyal legion of followers. They even made their 2014 breakthrough album ‘Singles’ without a label to release it. Letterman was their shop-window moment. Overnight, when their performance of ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ went viral, a wider world was introduced to frontman Samuel T Herring’s intense stage persona. In case you’re wondering, he does slap his own face and thump his chest like that every night.
After that, almost everything changed. And yet, in some respects, on ‘The Far Field’ not that much has changed. Musically, they haven’t meddled with the formula they’ve been nurturing for a decade. The songs are built around Gerrit Welmers’ rippling synths and William Cashion’s propulsive basslines. And Herring’s still determined to plough all of his rawest emotions into the lyrics.
They recently told NME it feels to them like a “driving album”, one best enjoyed turned up on the open highway. That’s most obvious on ‘Beauty Of The Road’, lead single ‘Ran’ and ‘Through The Roses’ (Herring’s most vulnerable, honest moment here). Other tracks are less instant. Largely, this is a set of songs that seep, creep and grow in strength, like opener ‘Aladdin’, ‘Time On Her Side’ and ‘Cave’.
A key difference, though, is also the standout moment… Late on nestles ‘Shadows’, a duet with Blondie’s Debbie Harry. It’s not only the best chorus on the album, but also refreshing to hear Herring’s distinctive wounded growl contrasted against Harry’s iconic vocal. ‘The Far Field’ might be an album that consolidates what Future Islands have got, which is considerably more than a few years back. Frankly, no band deserves it more.