Future Islands remains simple and poignant with “The Far Field”

The synth-pop masterminds advance their successful formula and expound upon their uncanny energy.


Kyle Kohner, Writer

A husky build, receding hairline and occasional scowls make it hard for Sam Herring to fit the aesthetic of a leadman of a fervent synth-pop act. However, an uncanny energy and an alluring delivery more than qualify Herring as the running life line through the perplexing Future Islands.

A sense of self

In a scene where bands draw inspiration from each other and lose themselves in inseparable stylistic comparisons, Future Islands have maintained their sense of self, which became exposed in an iconic performance on “The Tonight Show” in 2014, where Herring showcased his scowling vocals and audacious dance moves on national television.

Future Islands’ follow up to their breakout album “Singles,” “The Far Field” cements them as curators of a dying breed of sound.

Aside from Herring’s moniker, otherworldly stage-presence and outlandish vocals, Future Islands’ identity rests in their pulsating synth-driven sound. Similar to the sonic exuberance of “Singles,” tracks off of “The Far Field, “ spearheaded by the lead single “Ran,” share kindred, energetic tempo and a profoundly fierce delivery.

However, over the course of five albums now, the band remains hesitant to experiment and continues to resort to small, invariant arrangements of sound, which turns out to be the best decision on “The Far Field.”

Overt uniformity

To some, this overt uniformity comes off too abrasive, resulting in a lack of distinction between tracks. Their groovy lead bass lines not only harken back to their previous album, but yield stark similarity within this one. The bass throbs, pushes and smolders amidst washed out synth lines, providing the band its driving ‘80s nature. Then there is the ceaselessly powerful drum patterns and its invariant snare that only differs when the tempo shifts from track to track.

While many of the synthesized chords stagnate through many tracks, the inclusion of numerous impassioned countermelodies bring their synthesized nature into euphoric bliss, adding just enough character to each track.

Convicting believability

The subject matter explored in “The Far Field” is similar to their musical arrangements. Akin to Future Islands’ previous work, Herring discusses the cliche themes of love and death, but each line cuts deeply due to the unwavering conviction of Herring’s delivery of each line, adding a sense of believability to Herring’s nature and this album as a whole.

While “The Far Field” remains in their familiar ballpark of lyricism, sound and production, their inseparable elements thrive and breathe life into the daunting criticisms of sameness. The evolution of such a simple sound and subject matter profoundly proclaims this band’s hierarchy in a dying music genre.

Admittedly, distinguishing certain tracks from each other becomes slightly overbearing. The lack of diversity may keep listeners at bay, but tracks like the slower, reggae-inspired “Candles” provide a moment of short respite. The beatific duet of Debbie Harry and Herring on “Shadows” should attract the fans of both synth pop lovers and devotees of Blondie in another moment of experimentation. Listening to this album more than once will assuredly unearth the artistic craft of these outside-of-the box gems but will also expose the unique subtleties to each “similar” track.

Ultimately, Future Islands’ ability to churn out poignant and edifying music from these purposely confined arrangements prevails as a modest marvel. Credit this recent success to the adept songwriting abilities, striking vocal work and character of Samuel Herring. This band recognizes what works for them and their fans. Time after time, relying on the sweeping synth melodies and the unparalleled conviction and charisma emitting from Herring’s colorful vocals has substantiated a formula that has brought Future Islands success. “The Far Field” advances and complexes, yet remains loyal to that formula.

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