Future Islands – Singles
Released: March 24, 2014
Singles is not a collection of singles from the Baltimore based synthpop band Future Islands; it’s just their dramatic fourth LP with a misleading title. However, if you squint just a little, its easy to picture a world where this is album is a nostalgic collection of hit songs. By my standards, Singles is an ideal set of songs: 10 tracks, 42 minutes, 100% substance, no filler, no trans-fats, zero added sugar, etc. Singles is absolutely airtight; no bloated builds or ballads to hinder the taut momentum that carries the album from start to finish.
Future Islands’ formula is simple. Synth pop often suffers from the an overpowering glut of electric sounds but Future Islands has carved out a nice little niche in the genre with a laid back but still danceable sensibility. While the arrangement of the songs is distinctly uncomplicated, the final mix with lead singer Samuel T. Herring’s primal crooning is captivating. The guy looks vaguely like a young Marlon Brando with a receding hairline and a penchant for what I can only describe as ‘metal voice’. Watch the maestro dance and growl his way through Singles first actual single “Seasons (Waiting On You)” on David Letterman and you will get a good sense of the power and presence Herring brings to the sound.
Though it only appears in brief flashes throughout most of the album, Herring’s metal voice is showcased at the crest of a noisy crescendo on “Fall From Grace” before the arrangement drops sharply to a more delicate pace. Herring’s electric personality and fervor permeates and defines Singles. Ever rough around the edges, his voices rides the fine tuned, squeaky clean synth grooves providing an enchanting juxtaposition of sounds. His hooks are memorable but none more so than when Herring delivers the line “I wanted you to know I was thinking about you” on the albums steady emotional centerpiece “Back in the Tall Grass”.
For all it’s simplicity and cleanliness, Singles is an emotional wreck. Herring’s lyrics are largely driven by nostalgic longing and desperation, but he expertly toes the line of dramatic melancholy without ever crossing it. Adding to the emotional complexity of the album, the feelings described on Singles are often observed rather than experienced, with Herring only reacting to the turmoil and pleading with us throughout the album to see the world as it once was or as it could have been despite existing in a present moment of chaos and discontent.
The album closer “A Dream of You and Me” provides a comforting and wistful finale to Singles. Over shimmering synth riffs and Singles’ grooviest bass lines, Herring sings:
“All that glitters is gold
Don’t believe what you’ve been told
People lie, people love, people go
But beauty lies in every soul”
It’s a dark brand of optimism, but it’s an undeniably hopeful sentiment.
Upon the conclusion of any great drama, we should see how the narrative has changed the protagonist. We invest in our storytellers and they repay us by sharing the lessons they learned through the struggle. As listeners, we want confirmation that the effort was worth something, that we walk away with more than we had before.
As the final notes of “A Dream of You and Me” ring out and the wondrous drama of Singles comes to its end, Herring closes with the line:
“I asked myself for peace
And found a piece of me
Staring at the sea”
Few albums conclude with such graceful closure but Singles is an unassailable triumph.
Top Tracks: “Seasons (Waiting On You)”, “Back In The Tall Grass”, “Light House”