REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/08/2014
New Wave rarely sounded this good.
A strong vibe of that much loved and critically derided genre, mixed with post-punk and a hint of electronic ambience, colors Future Islands’ fourth album and best to date. It coalesces the band’s strengths into a cohesive and deliberately retro whole, an album brimming with hope, reflection and confidence in spite of failure.
Synth blurbs straight out of the ‘80s are all over the place, sounding just as cheesy now as they did then, and so the introductions to many of these songs are pretty lame. Once the band picks up steam, though, songs like “Sun In The Morning” and “Spirit” are quite good, propulsive pop that straddles three decades and makes you want to dance, or reflect quietly, or power through whatever your current struggle is.
Shades of David Bowie’s last several albums (dating back to Let’s Dance) are present in both the songwriting and Samuel Herring’s vocals (witness “Light House”), which go from a growl to a croon to a shout without ever sacrificing power. Pretty much everyone who has seen this band live attests to his magnetic, commanding performance in concert, and that mostly translates to the studio.
Several electro-synth pop records have come out in February and March alone this year, so picking a song like “Back In The Tall Grass” or “Doves” out of the lineup will prove difficult; that failure to distinguish a unique sound and the cheese factor of the synthesizers keeps this from greatness. However, it all comes together on tracks like “Spirit,” “A Song For Our Grandfathers,” the power of “Fall From Grace” and “Like The Moon,” the latter being the best example of Herring’s vocal prowess.
Singles is audacious in its title, its confidence, its decision to resurrect an old genre and bring it to a new audience by imbuing it with personality, warmth and modern indie electro-pop songwriting. It’s a shame that said songwriting isn’t up to par with the singing, but the best moments – about half the record – suggest that Future Islands has found its niche and that the trio deserves the audience it is now courting.