It’s impossible to think of Future Islands without picturing their captivating performance on David Letterman’s show in 2014. The appearance led to them breaking through with their already-classic single, ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’. Despite increased interest in the band, there’s a sense that the quality of the rest of their output wasn’t being fully appreciated. They’d already released two solid albums a few years before (2010’s In Evening Air and 2011’s On The Water) and the rest of the accompanying 2014 album, Singles, was just as good as ‘Seasons’. They’re back with their fifth album, The Far Field, which finds them in a unique position to either build on the exposure of their last era and become huge, or go back to being the cult band they were before that infamous performance.
On the first single, ‘Run’, the band stick to their familiar template of blending warm synths with a subtle groove. Samuel T. Herring isn’t a conventional singer, but he adapts his raw vocals in a way that complements the yearning melody. He continues to write romantic lyrics in his endearingly direct way, “and what’s a song with you when every song I write’s about you.”
Like a lot of their past material, there’s a strong influence of New Order throughout the album. ‘Day Glow Fire’ perfectly encapsulates the sound of when Joy Division were reinventing themselves as New Order. You can also hear their slow-burning melancholy on ‘Cave’ as Herring reveals his struggles: “I don’t believe anymore, I won’t grieve anymore.”
‘North Star’ is blissful and gives The Far Field its most commerical moment. Herring sings, “You gave me second chance and hopes to run to, I couldn’t bare to stand another day without you” on this touching love song. It’s comparable to their strongest material. ‘Through The Roses’ has the same wistful nostalgia that characterises their sound and it leads to an empowering climax. In the song’s outro, Herring repeats the refrain, “we can pull through together” with convincing optimism and conviction.
Herring is such a compelling frontman, it’s easy to overlook the importance of the other members. Gerrit Welmers reliably uses keyboards to match the lyrics with a feeling of longing.. William Cashion is an underrated bass player who helps give their songs replay value. On The Far Field the band have refined their sound and revealed some new tricks. Cashion’s basslines are more prominent with their increased level of funk, especially on the wonderful, ‘Aladdin’, which closes with a gorgeous string arrangement. There is a touch of brass and catchy arpeggiated synths on, ‘Time On Her Side’. Their touring drummer, Michael Lowry, plays on the record for the first time, taking the band closer to their energetic live sound.
The Far Field feels like they’ve settled on the level of success they had last time round. There’s a lack of big pop moments or obvious attempts to put themselves in the big leagues, and there’s no radical changes in style that would alienate their new found fan-base. Whilst there are new additions to their sound, overall this record appears to find them in a holding pattern. For now, this pattern still suits them. The Far Field is another lovely Future Islands record that’s brimming with as much charm as their best work.
The Far Field is released on 7th April through 4AD.