In Review: Future Islands - As Long As You Are

On their first album for three years, The Baltimore group take their signature synthpop sound into more subdued territory, conjuring new and exciting scenes from their old ways.
Posted: 22 October 2020 Words: Isaac Bartels

It’s hard to fault Future Islands for sticking to their guns musically. In the streaming age where subgenres become oversaturated in an instant, there’s something to be said for artists who capitalise on their niche instead of trend-hopping. Moody synths, gravelly baritone, and murmured bass lines have been the band’s calling card since their revelatory Letterman performance in 2014.

With the disconnection of 2020, it’s heartening to know that the quartet’s sixth release As Long As You Are feels as personal and earnest as their previous efforts. Mixed in isolation, the album features a blend of the group’s rousing anthems with a newer, more contemplative side. As always, Samuel T. Herring lends the theatricality of his dynamic voice to the tracks, hushed musings blooming into snarling, triumphant hooks. The raw spirit of his performance never fails to evoke the drama and pathos of each enduring love and heartbreak.

Opener ‘Glada’ indicates that this will be a solemn affair compared to past releases. Herring goes existential, asking “Who am I? Do I deserve the sea again?” in a subdued, meditative opening. The meandering waves of the synth are tightly coupled with the percussive pulse of the bass, allowing the vocals to deftly navigate picturesque ruminations on nature and life.

Any concern that this is a departure from the band’s characteristic sound is quickly quashed by lead single ‘For Sure.’ A spiritual sequel to hit ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’, plucking keys underscore the soaring guitar riff. The instrumental is reminiscent of their contemporaries, The War on Drugs. Equally anthemic is ‘Waking’, a burst of indie synthpop. Revelling in its lyrical existentialism, the song finds the band engaging in the “screw it, dance” mentality that’s seen a modern resurgence in disco-pop.

The middle stretch strips back the bells and whistles of the group’s instrumentation, letting the buoyant vocals take centre stage. ‘City’s Face’ sees hollow synths spark and chime in the gaps of Herring’s evocative voice. “Fear has made you shallow” he growls, shredding over the steady march of ‘The Painter’. The passion is exciting to hear, yet crushing to understand as the album explores the heartbreak and nihilism on its mind.

Understated standout ‘I Knew You’ clears the soundscape, lending room for Herring’s raw vocals to bleed through the mix. Reunited with an old flame, he works through the unfinished business of their broken relationship, reaching deep into their back catalogue with a reference to 2010’s ‘Long Flight’. The lyrics, potent as they have are throughout the entire project, reach their zenith here. “You told me you’d been fine since I poisoned your life” is as damning a self-indictment as it is a genuine expression of relief. 

Future Islands manage to conjure new and exciting scenes from their old ways. As Long As You Are is a return to form, with a few new tricks up their sleeve.

As Long As You Are is out now via 4AD.

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