This review turned into more of a love letter to FI. Well. No regrets. You’ll fall in love with them too, I guarantee it – “it just takes time […] you can change your life.”
Perhaps this won’t be the most objective of reviews of Future Islands’ latest offering that you will come across; partially because I write this upon my possibly 54th listen of their new track, and partially because Future Islands are without a doubt one of my favourite groups ever. I was immune to their charms for many years – hearing Seasons (Waiting On You) on the radio and thinking, ooh yeah, that’s quite a nice song, and not really investigating further into the curious voice of Samuel T. Herring barking bold, brilliant beauty at me. And then, last year, I came across a clip on my Youtube homepage of their infamously captivating live performances and fell down a rabbit hole of fascination. The adlibbing animalistic grunts, the Cossack-meets-Saturday-morning-kitchen-boogie groove, the enigmatic grasping of the air to plead with his crowd like a more youthful, more musical Marlon Brando. Why did he dance like that? Why did he sound like that? Who the hell were these guys? And when the hell would I get to see them live too?
I mean, if you’re not familiar with them by now, then the above clip should illustrate to you all you need to know about the Baltimore band within the first 30 seconds- synth-pop princes of their kingdom of live performance art. They are definitely a band unsuited the confines of a studio. Their records lack the more husky and, really, bizarre sounds Herring comes out with, and of course the dramatic flair of the group as a whole; but conversely, we receive something coveted and valuable but in a completely different way on their recorded singles. We hear Herring’s voice at its most vulnerable, we hear synths at their most haunting, we hear their contemplative lyrics more than we focus on the wonderful weirdness of the performance before us. That’s exactly what we gain from their latest effort, and I must say as a firm fan, it is so relieving to never hear a dip in quality of their releases and actually often improvements from release to release. They are a band that are constantly in creative transit, growing and improving. You can truly tell how much work and sheer love of their art goes into their work. They make mistakes and acknowledge them and move forward (like that of their disappointment with the final result of, in my opinion, the criminally underrated record The Far Field). A human band that makes human music for, well, humans.
‘Peach’, the new single dropped mysteriously two days ago with no prior warning or promotion from Future Islands, is a tender and gorgeous reflection on existence not dissimilar to their earlier works. But this time it’s just more refined and delivered with more confidence. And that’s why I love it. It’s a song that relies on the earnest delivery of its lyrics, a song that explores themes the band have always been concerned with throughout their career, and yet we still receive something fresh and new in the process. Arguably this is some of the band’s best produced work. Their last album As Long As You Are too displayed the impressive production at play; the clarity of the tracks just gets better and better. The importance of this with synth-based tracks is invaluable – in many modern indie-pop tunes I often find myself focusing solely on the synth which can often be, in truth, obnoxious in its dominance of a record. But on ‘Peach’ we have laid-back synths to match the meditative nature of the song. It captures that comforting feeling I’ve held in my heart since falling in love with FI; melancholic, but hopeful. “There’s life in this tunnel, just hanging around.” I find this song desperately sad and all at once it brought a smile to my face. It’s soft and sweet. It’s a peach.
I noticed a comment in the Future Islands Facebook Fan Group (yes, I’m that sad) about this song that truly summed it up for me. To paraphrase, it was of the sentiment that the world truly needed this unexpected surprise from the band right now. The world could always use some more Future Islands. It’s such a lonely, smothering time, and it has been for the majority of this perilous pandemic. I want to be wrapped up in escapism of its finest kind; the velveteen vocals of a man reassuring me that yes, life is a difficult headf*ck, but it’s sort of a beautiful headf*ck, and it’s worth appreciating it while it’s here because you never know when it’ll be snatched from you. Herring’s mental health and addiction struggles give such a personal element to the tracks that it’s hard to not melt into them with sheer admiration for how far he’s come, and all the while offering the comfort that “he’s got through it. So can I.” I identify with Herring’s chameleon brilliance, his unabashed non-compromising weirdness. He’s of the ‘be yourself’ rhetoric in a completely unpatronising way. It’s hard to put into words the myriad of emotions that flooded to me when I pressed play on this track for the first time on the 18th, but to sum it up: I didn’t feel so alone. Isn’t that what one wants from any artist? It’s far more than one can expect. I often feel disbelieving that we have this blessed band. Perhaps this is a ridiculous pedestal to put a band on. But I will place them on there proudly for the rest of my days as a music reviewer, because to me they simply define what modern music should be. A lifeline.
My mother recently got us tickets to see Future Islands, and I’ll finally get to see my heroes in the flesh – I still keep pinching myself. I will be hoping and praying and crossing all of my digits that ‘Peach’ will be played. Even as a stand-alone single, it has a fan-favourite vibe to it already, I can tell. I have a sixth-sense for this sort of thing, honest. Now get to work on that seventh album, boys. We need it now more than ever.
‘Peach’ by Future Islands can be found on all good streaming platforms. The animated visuals can be seen below: