I don’t know if it’s the album cover, or the fact that “islands” is in the band’s name, or the fact that I can practically hear the ice clank in a glass of lemonade in frontman Samuel T. Herring’s voice. Whatever the reason, upon listening to Future Islands’ newest album, Singles, I hear my winter skin peel away to reveal a new layer of skin with a craving for the forgotten sun.
Despite the references to the sea, these songs don’t really evoke the kind of sea with “beach babes” in oversized sunglasses soaking up the sun in sweet oblivion. This sea is infinitely tangible, the kind with waves of memories and emotions, both positive and negative. The album sways with natural gravity while lingering loyally along the shoreline; it floats between synth pop and indie rock, the swift and the heavy, a lyrical nostalgia and the present.
“Seasons (Waiting on You),” the first track on the record, presents everything that the album promises for the next 9 songs. It reaches a comfortable balance between synths and bass while the lyrics preface the theme of nostalgia and progress that really holds the album together. The slow pace builds up to a wave of full instrumentals and refreshing vocals that seem to thaw the winter ice: “the summer will warm / But the winter will crave what has gone.” It’s metaphorical, y’all.
That’s one of the great things about this album. Of course, the sound is great and sure to end up on my summer playlist, but the poetic value in some of these lyrics is truly admirable. They are a little hyperbolic at times and feature an undying devotion to the sea, but they feel sincere and inspired by real memories. It was a pleasant surprise, for example, to find real content behind such a song as “Spirit”: “For dreams come to those who let them in their guarded room / Open wide your winged-eye / Spirit drives – to catch the truth.”
Pace-wise, the album as a whole tends to tread at a mild pace, but some songs, like “A Song for our Grandfathers,” and “Fall from Grace” slow it down with a little more lyrical and instrumental weight. In “Fall from Grace,” Herring adopts a strange alto with a quick moment of screamo, which is dramatic at best and a little more confusing than impactful. Luckily, this vocal alteration happens very rarely throughout Singles.
On the whole, the album is a catch (I swear, it’s the last of the sea references)—a coherent piece, which fuses pop and indie rock in pensive poetic images. Even so, this coherence can be a little over-perfected at times. The pacing is a little too steady, the synths a little overused. Artistic value aside, I felt the subtle onset of sea-sickness towards the end of the album (I know, just one more metaphor for the road).
written by Juhee Lee