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Future Islands’ Letterman performance the other week became a sort of insta-meme sensation, and I’ve long been fond of the band so it was gratifying to see them get some widespread attention, with their gruff-voiced theatrics and soulful synthpop sound being a revelation to many. Our Clinton, however, had very different things to say about their career trajectory, and I have to admit I share some of his reservations.
I don’t think single ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ was the one-out-of-ten disaster he lamented about in his review but they did seem to be losing some momentum on their previous LP ‘On The Water’ and this time round their sound seems diluted further still. This is still crisp, danceable pop music and Sam Herring is still a compelling and emotionally raw frontman with a unique voice, so it’s no disaster by any stretch of the imagination, but in places here they seem to be on autopilot.
‘A Song For Our Grandfathers’ is a highlight, the pace reduced to a nocturnal plod populated with coolly droning synths for a moody chugging ballad. Weirdly this is one of the more uplifting and contented-sounding tracks on the record, I’m starting to think perhaps Herring’s Phantom of the Opera stage persona so masterfully perfected on the emotionally coruscating ‘In Evening Air’ must’ve been easier to maintain back when he felt like an outsider.
It’s that old quandary that artists whose angst is integral to their act always face. Now the band are big stars and he’s on Letterman and his album is on 4AD, where are the unhappy experiences and lonely periods of frustration to draw upon for his craft? They’re still talented entertainers, and this is a solid collection of pop songs, but the intensity and obsessiveness of that early material seems to have faded. I hope that means Herring is happier now. I get the impression that the general public don’t necessarily share my perspective, but I’m sorry to say that I prefer the records they made back when it sounded like his heart had just been ripped out and stamped on.
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