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Future Islands - As Long As You Are (Album Review)

Tuesday, 13 October 2020 Written by Graeme Marsh

Future Islands have generally tapped into the less cool, cheesier side of synthesizer music, with their excellent songwriting abilities and Samuel T. Herring’s poetic lyrics breathing new life into a facet of an old format largely best left back in the 1980s.

The Baltimore band’s sixth album ‘As Long As You Are’ is less foot on the pedal than before, and less of a people pleaser. That trait was not matched by its predecessor, 2017’s ‘The Far Field’, where the pressure to put something out after the success of their breakthrough album ‘Seasons’ was intense.

Of course, having a frontman as charged and emotionally expressive as Herring would be an asset in any scenario but here his guttural yarns, which often sound like the work of an over-enthusiastic Shakespearean ham, are uniquely intoxicating and compelling.

Stamped all over is the feeling of being in a more comfortable place, and that’s particularly apparent on the opener Glada, where birdsong leads to cinematic sweeps, dramatic tones and self-questioning as Herring addresses new found love with Swedish actor Julia Ragnarsson. It’s a brave way to start an album, but it sets the tone of freedom and fresh starts nicely.

Uptempo, uplifting moments are plentiful in the aftermath, with lead single For Sure sounding like a pumped-up Editors track, and Waking briefly toying with both Kraftwerk synths and glam-based glitz. Plastic Beach hits on familiar territory with ticking percussion underpinning a hypnotic groove, while Born In A War opens with a keyboard hook akin to Taylor Dayne’s Tell It To My Heart.

Later on, closer Hit The Coast incorporates bubbling synths that hint at Blondie’s Heart of Glass before diverting into the path of one-hit wonders Fiction Factory’s (Feels Like) Heaven. All the while, Herring does his best impression of Roland Gift.

Only Future Islands could manage to successfully nod in the direction of such a diverse field of synth artists, with their net spreading even further thanks to Moonlight’s Cure-like guitars and The Painter’s 8-bit take off of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5. The accumulation of such eclectic sounds invigorates ‘As Long As You Are’, as does the obvious happiness on show. After years of waiting for a sniff of success from within their cocoon, Future Islands have now emerged into a vibrant thing of beauty.

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