It is only the end of March, but my favourite album so far in the year is a quirky, left-field blend of synth, pop, growl and howl from Future Islands. Singles is singularly formidable. I can’t get it out of my bloodstream, perhaps because it has made the reminiscent so current.
Part of what has made it compelling was the band’s recent performance on The Late Show with David Letterman, supposedly the most-watched video in the program’s history, notable mainly for the hip-swivel-heavy presence of singer Samuel T. Herring. But I only saw the video after a week or so with the album, and I didn’t think the single from Singles—Seasons (Waiting on You)—was its best, second-best, or third-best track. Still, it’s a tremendous video; fans of the band even say its concerts are unmatched by the recordings.
Future Islands is by no means a new band. Its earlier work I found to be jagged, a little incoherent and rushed, and struggling for an identity. Several things coalesce with Singles: a narrower range that builds a clearer character, a far stronger feel for pop and its essential hook, and a developed confidence that seems to brim with swagger. It’s a band arriving with an album that properly signals so.
The music I like most, no matter the scale, has drama, ambition, heart and grandeur. But I can’t say synthesizer-propelled rock has been much in my mix, mainly because it often sounds either corny, clinical or unassertive. Retro is good, dated is not. Future Islands, equipped with techniques and instruments largely with us two decades ago, navigates those shoals easily. There is an industrial, muscular yet familiar twist in what it does on Singles. The songs never feel of an age.
True enough, Herring can be an affected singer, what with punctuating accents that sound like he’s non-North American, and the regular, guttural belt. But he pushes the ethereal sound around wisely with extended phrasing and escapes the keyboard/percussion container often to hog the aural moment, the stuff of rock stars.
Songs I thought were initially weak (Like The Moon, Sun in the Morning) have grown, songs I thought would run their course (Doves, Light House, Fall From Grace) have worn very well. Again, we’re just entering April, but I think this will be a keeper.