Review from www.pitchfork.com .
Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring has an energy, a physical aura, that moves along a single line. On one end is a hangdog character with tucked-in shirt and pleated khakis and on the other is an ursine man-monster wresting primordial sounds from his heart. Until recently, we could find Herring only in the small clubs where Future Islands relentlessly toured. With Herring as ringleader, these shows got pretty rowdy for a three-piece synth pop band. Everyone would push around to his metal vocals of “Tin Man” and sway along to “Inch of Dust” — their former marquee song from 2010’s In Evening Air — all while Herring waved his arms like a man conducting a symphony of giants.
When Future Islands recently performed their new marquee song on “Letterman”, the stunning “Seasons (Waiting On You)”, the secret was out: Here’s this guy, this dude with a tucked-in shirt, khakis, and a receding hairline bobbing and weaving, grinding gears in his throat, giving a “fuck yeah” gesture before a perfect pop modulation takes him to the chorus. He had that kind of uninhibited spirit the internet loves to protect and preserve. If he had a more garrulous social media brand, no doubt he could take this moment and amass an army of fans, the hashtag Herring Task Force, retweeting Vines of people wearing tucked-in shirts and khakis doing “The Herring”.
The landmark performance was far and away the most viewed musical segment on “Late Show With David Letterman” and it was certainly the most surprising moment of Future Islands’ career. And now, following the storied live shows, the memes, and their move from Thrill Jockey to 4AD comes their fourth and possibly best album, Singles. These songs finally invite us to participate in Herring’s world, one shaped by geological heartbreak events and their epochal reflection periods, told with nothing more than the simple truth. It’s pop music distilled, something Future Islands have been working at since their earliest lo-fi electro-punk recordings.
Singles is a great balance of pop and melodrama. It’s built around the sturdy new wave beat, almost always four on the floor, giving Herring a comfortable frame in which to sing. Its themes are also symmetrical, as Herring plays with antithesis like an eager English student: day and night, sun and moon, summer and winter, man and woman. His words are the sort of thing that would tumble out of your mouth if you were told to write a love poem right now in eight seconds. “She looks like the moon/ So close and yet so far” or “My sun every morning/ My star of the evening” are just two couplets that look goopy on the page but sound so impulsively romantic when he sings them. Which is to say that the setting for these songs is nothing fancy, but if they were any busier than cool nights in the tall grass with the moon hanging just so, it would ruin the music’s delicate relationship with Herring.
Herring’s presence draws from Wham City’s theatrical charm, but Future Islands also work on a much grander scale. From their debut up to 2011’s On The Water, bassist William Cashion was the group’s Peter Hook, as he offered distinctive lines with an actual personality behind it. But on Singles, Cashion and the band nod toward the stadium-ready anthems of early U2. The moody synth drones have been replaced with ergonomic melody and the band has tightened up accordingly. On songs like “Spirit” and the parting words of “A Dream Of You And Me”, when Herring’s passionate delivery carries him into those heavenly choruses, you can all but see the flood lights flash in the arena when he gets there. He sings with his eyes open, still searching, still trying to reconcile love, and still a little pissed off.
The album isn’t as taut as it could be in the back half—“Like the Moon”, for example, is a predictable and rather long four-and-a-half minutes. But Future Islands compensate for the occasional dull patch. Just after “Like the Moon” comes the album’s highpoint, the post-mortem ballad “Fall From Grace”. It could be a Beach House song with its below-freezing tempo and a spotlight on Cashion’s guitars, but then Herring gets to thinking about one of those heartbreak events and it all comes rushing back above this overdriven baritone guitar. He unknots all the emotion that has only bubbled up until now and asks one last question about their love and basically Hulks out: “was it ALL INSIDE OF ME?” The moment is arresting, and in the context of the sometimes mushy poetry of the album, these four words are blinding and absolutely unforgettable.
If this all seems a bit much, well, it is. That’s the point of Future Islands, to invite this impulsive and unfettered behavior into the lives of listeners, both at home and at their shows. Singles is risky, but the strength of the songwriting carries it over. It reminds me of that video from Sasquatch 2009 of the shirtless guy dancing to Santigold, which has since gone mega viral. Herring acts on impulse—at no point does he sound calculated or clever—offering an open invitation to the uninhibited, to the goofy, and the sentimental.