TThe last time the world heard from Future Islands was in 2020. As Long As You Are was an album that suggested things had been set right after a turbulent period in the band’s history. In 2014, 11 years into their career, they were catapulted from well-known but small-scale cult band – “a band of journeymen”, as frontman Samuel T Herring put it – to viral stardom virtually overnight. the next day thanks to their first appearance on television. performing Seasons (Waiting on You) live on The Late Show With David Letterman. Suddenly they could sell out several nights at Brixton Academy and lure Debbie Harry into the studio to record a duet, and could only play the venues they had once called home under an alias. This may have inevitably caused problems. They more or less disowned their 2017 album The Far Field, a “condescending” attempt to “play the game” that bassist William Cashion called “fucking embarrassing.” But As Long As You Are was an album that seemed content: there were plenty of songs about the redemptive power of love and the joys of frontman Samuel T Herring’s budding relationship. One of them was called Glada, the name given to red kites in Sweden, where Herring spent most of his time with his partner, Julia Ragnarsson, star of the surprisingly titled Swedish drama series Fartblinda (Blind).
There are songs like these in the sequel: People Who Aren’t There Anymore opens with King of Swedish, which depicts Herring so in love that he has returned to a punk-obsessed adolescence (“having feeling like I was 15, wandering around with the Misfits”); “I belong to you, I belong to you,” he sings on Deep in the Night. But this time, those songs feel abandoned, scattered throughout an album that’s primarily concerned with depicting the collapse of his relationship: the King of Sweden’s refrain of “you’re all I need / Nothing said Could Change One Thing” is colored by what follows, the deployment of Herring’s signature vocal growl suddenly seeming painful rather than cathartic in context.
One of the reasons Letterman’s appearance went viral was that Herring’s performance seemed so impassioned and unaffected — in a cool, carefully posed world, here was someone on stage who looked like he didn’t. having no filters, Instagram or otherwise, that seemed to dance as if no filters were used. one of them watched, beating his chest so hard he could be heard through the music and reaching out to the audience imploringly as he sang. There is a similar feeling here. Distance seems to have played a role in the relationship: there’s a lot about trying to stay in touch in different time zones, while The Sickness and Deep in the Night imply they were surprised by the Covid lockdowns that left them stuck on opposite sides of the relationship. the world (“Our love died in two places – I had to watch it fall apart from here / Had to watch it disappear”). But whatever the reason, People Who Aren’t There Anymore is quite merciless in its details, covering everything from the first vague movements of discontent – “I say to myself ‘it’s okay’, when that’s not all made the case” – going through a self-tearing. review on Give Me the Ghost Back and Peach’s depiction of a desperate and doomed attempt to make things work again, to a kind of inconsolable acceptance on Corner of My Eye.
It’s strong stuff, made slightly disorienting by the fact that the songs don’t tell the story in any order – we move from despair to ardent expressions of love to stoic acceptance – but leavened by the music. Future Islands have chosen to refine rather than radically overhaul their sound over the course of their seven albums, and it’s tempting to say that if you’ve heard one, you’ll know what to expect here: metronomic rhythms, surging silence—a strong dynamics, a sharp bass sound due to Peter Hook, alternately glacial and shimmering synthesizers rooted in the band’s love of early 80s OMD that turn a bit of stadium rock towards the chorus, the Herring’s distinctive voice.
There are certainly some audible progressive sonic developments here – subtler guitar nuances than before, a shuffling rhythm on Iris that feels slightly West African – but the album’s currency clearly doesn’t lie in gushing sonic surprises. This lies in the adaptation of Herring’s lyrics to striking melodies, an area in which he fully delivers: soaring on the ballad tempo Corner of My Eye, lush on Peach, sparkling at odds with the mournful emotions of Say Goodbye . This makes it too involving, engaging and powerful an album to be considered simply more of the same: you leave the turmoil of People Who Aren’t There Anymore feeling moved rather than jaded.
This week Alexis listened
Nadine Shah – The greatest dancer
Thunderous drums from Adam and the Ants, moving vocals, synths that alternately drift and howl: pop music with weight.