The years since the release of Singles have been transformative for Future Islands, catapulting the Baltimore-based band from cult favorites to synthpop icons. As addictive songs like breakout “Seasons (Waiting on You)” turned the world on to sublime pleasures a loyal fan base already knew, this hard-touring band plowed forward, playing their 1,000th show in July 2015 and celebrating their 10th anniversary in February 2016. Now Future Islands returns at the top of their game with new album The Far Field, delivering twelve chestpounding love songs and odes to the road as only they can.
The Far Field refines and builds on the breakthroughs of Singles, bursting with undeniable hooks and disarmingly honest lyrics written by Samuel T. Herring (vocals, lyrics), William Cashion (bass, guitars), and Gerrit Welmers (keyboards, programming). The band began writing new material in January 2016 on the coast of North Carolina, and continued throughout the year in Baltimore before road-testing these songs with a series of secret shows under fake names. In November 2016, they settled in with Grammy Award-winning producer John Congleton at Los Angeles’ legendary Sunset Sound, where everyone from The Beach Boys to Prince have laid down masterpieces.
The result is Future Islands’ best set of songs yet, both an emotional summation of the themes they’ve explored over the past decade and a further distillation of their signature art-pop sound. It’s the first Future Islands record featuring live drums by Michael Lowry, who joined the band prior to their viral performance of “Seasons” on Letterman, and whose energy propels the band’s sound to new heights. With Congleton’s production and string and horn arrangements by Patrick McMinn, The Far Field finds Future Islands crafting soundscapes larger and more opulent than ever before, as sonically lush and expansive as they are lyrically raw and direct.
With each spin of The Far Field, Future Islands’ fifth album and second for 4AD, another of its dozen impassioned and impeccably crafted tracks will jump out as a favorite. “Shadows,” a stunner of a duet between Herring and Blondie’s Debbie Harry, offers a naked look at heartache, finding hope and power in facing pain and personal flaws head-on. Both “Time on Her Side” and “Day Glow Fire” attest to the beauty lurking in even our most painful memories, and assert that even lost love can give life deeper meaning. “North Star,” first single “Ran,” and “Beauty of the Road” all mark this as an album about taking to the road, chasing after love and self-knowledge-and coming to terms with what you find there. As Herring sings on the heartfelt “Through the Roses,”
It’s not easy, just being human
And the lights and the smoke and the screens
Don’t make it better
I’m no stronger than you and I’m scared
But we can pull through-together
We can pull through
Drawing inspiration from their community of friends and their growing numbers of fans, The Far Field brilliantly expresses the band’s central themes: that there’s power in emotional vulnerability, that one can find a way to laugh and cry in the same breath-and be stronger for it. The Far Field speaks directly to the bruised but brave romantic each of us carries within. It’s forty-five minutes of brilliant pop mini- symphonies made for dancing, loving, and self-reflection; twelve beautiful reminders that one can grow and evolve while still staying true to oneself-just as this band has done for a decade now and counting.
Explosions in the Sky:
The Wilderness is Explosions In The Sky’s sixth album, and first non-soundtrack release since 2011’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. True to its title, The Wilderness explores the infinite unknown, utilizing several of the band’s own definitions of “space” (outer space, mental space, physical geography of space) as compositional tools. The band uses their gift for dynamics and texture in new and unique waysrather than intuitively fill those empty spaces, they shine a light into them to illuminate all the colors of the dark. From the electronic textures of the opening track to the ambient dissolve of closer “Landing Cliffs,” The Wilderness is an aggressively modern and forward-thinking work-one that wouldn’t seem the slightest bit out of place on a shelf between original pressings of Meddle and Obscured By Clouds.
The first EITS album not produced entirely by the band, The Wilderness finds them working with long time collaborator (and Grammy-winning producer) John Congleton in a co-producer role for the first time, and the band’s most ambitious songs to date branch into unexpected new dimensions accordingly: “Logic Of A Dream” lives up to its name, its celestial symphonic swells overcome by relentless tribal drum patterns that dissolve into a gentle Krautrock outro. The cacophonous washes that open “Disintegration Anxiety” resolve into a locked groove marking a rock solid midpoint of the journey, followed by a deconstructed ambient soundscape “Losing The Light.” “Colors In Space” is particularly beautiful and brave, cycling through sublime atmospherics and motorik drive before building to a whiplash-inducing halt.
Arguably the most progressive instrumental rock album since The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, The Wilderness is a bold, experimental work combining the EITS song craft that has sold hundreds of thousands of albums and tickets with the cinematic sensibility that has elevated the band to the level of regard and demand they enjoy as film composers. It is an album where shoegaze, electronic experimentation, punk damaged dub, noise, and ambient folk somehow coexist without a hint of contrivance-and cohere into some of the most memorable and listenable moments of the bands expansive body of work-“proper” studio albums and major motion picture soundtracks alike.
The progressive ambience of early Peter Gabriel, the triumphant romanticism of The Cure in their prime, and the more melancholy moments of Fleetwood Mac all inform the curious beauty of The Wilderness. The uncanny ability to reconcile the tension between discordant, nightmarish cacophony and laid-back, Laurel Canyoninspired folk-rock is a cornerstone of this album, and the center of Explosions In The Sky’s remarkable evolution. If The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place was the defining album of Explosions In The Sky’s career, The Wilderness is the band’s [re] defining album.
Explosions In The Sky is: Chris Hrasky (drums), Michael James (guitar, bass), Munaf Rayani (guitar), Mark T. Smith (guitar).