Album Review: Future Islands – As Long As You Are

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As Long As You Are

It’s not uncommon for artists to gently criticize their past work when promoting a new release, but less so is it to create a single moment in your history which almost comes to define you live on television.

On their seventh album, Future Islands are finding a way to come to terms with both.

Firstly, let’s get it out of the way: Letterman. Singer Samuel T. Herring’s performance as your shredding uncle after a little too much booze remains landmark TV, although the singer freely admits that it was driven by a case of conscious spontaneity rather than getting lost in the moment. Whatever he knew about what he was doing that night though, he certainly had no idea the resulting hangover would last for so long.

Secondly, As Long As You Are sees the Baltimorean-via-the-world quartet now back in their more natural, hazier dream-pop environment after their less assured previous outing The Far Field, Herring unafraid to bluntly confess about it that the recording process was a rush job with one eye on a prominent slot at 2017’s Coachella Festival.

Despite the global disruption however, he’s found great personal happiness in a new relationship; much of the coming to terms with finding another human to complete you, rather than to power struggle with, is contained here in songs of veiled candor.

This new love has relocated him to rural Sweden, a change that impacts As Long as You Are both on direct and indirect levels. Opener Glada was written about the sensation of freedom which comes from flight and being able to act as you want with someone knowing you will be understood. Musically the territory is familiar, although the feel is looser and more relaxed.

This new-found confidence and joy often surges through: on For Sure, the gunning bass and retro synths are like putting on an old coat, a sound which merges a pop-twin New Order or a less introverted Cure, mixed with surprisingly, perhaps deliberately, more vulnerable sounding vocal lines, although on the operatic Born In A War that low-end power still lurks beneath their wave, like a shark gripped tight on a leash.

Elsewhere, optimism tempered with regret bubbles directly on City’s Face (‘It’s so strange/How a person can change), although The Painter touches instead on the grinding iniquity of America’s political bipartisanship.

Ultimately, this is a record which is always at its best when Herring is. Hit The Coast is a fine example of a road song, arguably his home country’s greatest gift to the world, while Plastic Beach – as close to Seasons (Waiting On You) as we get – is a man looking at a reflection he finally feels comfortable with loving for itself.

Future Islands don’t have to say it: As Long as You Are is a far better album than their last. Whether on the other hand Letterman will ever release them is unlikely. Whether they should care is another story.

Andy Peterson

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