Unfortunately for nearly all bands there is no guarantee of reward after a career’s worth of heavy lifting and back-breaking pipework. It’s an age-old tale: persevere, scrape barrels for crowds and eventually, all going to plan, make a few quid. In modern times you would often see musicians very quickly cashing in and running for the hills. It is a fickle and unstable business they are in after all. And for even the most stoically broke ‘artists’ it cannot be easy to turn your nose up at a commercial tie-in or less-than-creative licensing deal after years of being on the bread line. It used to be called “cashing in” and “selling out” – to a great many it was a loathsome way of ensuring that fans who had paid their own hard-earned cash for music could hear it being used to hawk tampons and engine oil. To others it was a harmless way to make a few quid and sure who pays for music these days anyway?
Then you have bands like Future Islands. A band who slogged it out for a few albums and made little or no impact. But then out of the blue all of their ships came in. After three albums and countless tours Future Islands were booked to appear on Letterman and when the episode aired pretty much everything changed for them. Their rendition of ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ went viral and that was that – the band had finally found their audience. Perhaps even more pertinently their audience had found them. The subsequent album Singles was and is a gem and provided proof that they could very easily back up the hype that suddenly surrounded them.
So now, after three years of extensive touring, Future Islands are back with their fifth studio album The Far Field and it is absolutely stunning. Everything about this album is a testament to the hard work and extreme effort displayed by the Baltimore band. Hardly can a band’s work ethic be worth so much to them. Everything from the opening track ‘Aladdin’, with its skewed and nearly impenetrable lyrics right through to ‘Black Rose’ you will be swept up in a type of unremitting joy that can only be attributed to how much of themselves this band are willing to give.
There is nothing left to chance here – each track is a carefully poised and self-contained near-masterpiece. The deep, melodic bass-lines never give up and are undeniably as critical to the band’s sound as Sam Herring’s faux-Aristocracy vocal delivery. William Cashion please take a bow. Just how producer John Congleton managed to pour Cashion’s bass into the tracks without flooding them is a mystery. They take up so much aural space and yet somehow leave an abundance of room.
Lyrically this is the best work the band have done, too. There is raw emotion layered onto each track and every one of them is a visceral conveyance of passion. ‘Through The Roses’, a song about humanity in a fucked up age, contains some of Herring’s most compelling work. Gerrit Welmers’s keys and programming work, much like the bass and vocals, is so specific to the band that it can only be Future Islands. But on The Far Field it has taken on a life of its own. All three elements, and that’s not to discount the extraordinary work of Michael Lowry on drums, finally blend into a type of alchemy. For a perfect snapshot of what this symmetry sounds like have a listen to ‘Ancient Water’ or ‘Shadows’ featuring Debbie Harry.
So there is quite a bit to be said for the hard slog. The Far Field is effectively a band hitting their stride and fulfilling their potential. They could have toured Singles for a long time and even licensed the tracks to all manner of shite. After years of being denied a seat at the big table nobody would blame them. But Future Islands are clearly a breed apart and chose a different tack. They stuck to their guns and thankfully have given us one of the best albums of the last five years.