Photo credit: Tom Hines, Billions.
You probably wouldn’t have heard of Future Islands until 2014, but they had been around for at least ten years before then: touring incessantly and releasing lo-fi synth pop gems for their small cult following. The catalyst for the Baltimore synth-pop band’s success was their network television debut on the David Letterman Show. For me, it was a genuine ‘first time you hear The Beatles’ moment. Their sound is infectiously poppy, but with a razor sharp, retro edge. Evoking the best of New Order, Culture Club, and ABC, but with a dash of Captain Beefheart thrown in for good measure, they’re all your favourite 80s New Romantic bands ever wanted to be. But it was the voice and stage antics of frontman Samuel T. Herring that struck me most. He has a croon to match Rod Stewart, but a growl which would make him at home in any old school death metal band. One minute he’s side stepping and bobbing his head like a chicken, the next he’s slapping his face and punching his chest with emotion, his voice cracking as if he’s about to cry. You’re likely to see him sensually grooving like a stripper, but equally likely to see him gesticulating like a revivalist preacher. It really has to be seen to be believed. It’s funny, but strangely effective and affecting.
Their latest album The Far Field, is their most desperately sad and nuanced yet, with themes of broken relationships and shrinking from the world. That being said, it is also, perhaps, their most danceable. Future Islands are definitely one of the best bands in the world right now, but listening to them on record doesn’t do them full justice: it’s in the live setting that they really come into their own.