Dimming their thrashy edge, The Far Field is isolated in introspection, for a polished listen that begs to be shaken from its brooding rumination.
May 3, 2017 | by Amanda Scigaj
The Far Field
It’s hard to discuss art-school synth romantics Future Islands without discussing their previous album, 2014’s breakthrough Singles, and their ebullient performance on Letterman that catapulted them into the public consciousness. Singles was more polished and experienced than previous efforts; it studied abroad in Europe for a semester. It tried Durian fruit late one night. It joined a discussion group and finished Infinite Jest. With their latest full-length release The Far Field on 4AD three years later, the listener gets a more insular record that discusses loneliness, romance, and the road, amplified with their eponymous oxygenated synth rhythms. Perhaps this might not be what long-time listeners of Future Islands want; compared to their positively pyrotechnic 2008 debut Wave Like Home, The Far Field is less fist-pumping, and more wistful. Has the onset of mainstream exposure caused Future Islands to leave their edge behind?
Despite slowly coming in with an airy, lonely feel, the opening “Aladdin” knocked the wind out of me. The tune loosens the lid on an emotional landscape that affected me more than I care to admit — like running into an old flame and upending the deep-seated feelings you suppressed. Over the course of their six albums, Samuel T. Herring has continued to possess a Brando-esque quality as a frontman; brooding and chest thumping at one turn, while cradling the lyrics like a missed loved one in another.
Such care is administered in the second track, “Time on Her Side.” Herring asks the question so many of us have alone in the dark, looking out into the world, “Do they think about me, because I’m sure as hell thinking about them.” Future Islands the band provide the antithesis to the title “Beauty of the Road”; about a love lost to years of touring, the appeal of the road melting with a single look in a lost love’s eyes.
Hindsight and reminiscence are key themes that proliferate throughout The Far Field, against a backdrop of dreamy, intricate rhythms provided by keyboardist William Cashion and guitarist Gerrit Wilmers. “North Star” risks life and limb to fulfill a second chance, while “Day Glow Fire” reflects “We used to talk until the sun come up / We used to walk / We used to run,” against a groove with origins in New Order’s “Ceremony.” The jocular Debbie Harry duet “Shadows” is nearly buried on the album, both in the track order and against other cuts. Ethereal in its opening, Harry comes in soft for the chorus, before a polished call-and-response, injecting a necessary effeteness against Herring’s machismo.
The Far Field ends with “Black Rose,” the song closing with Herring repeating "stay, stay, stay"; the words gradually fading out, just as “Aladdin” slowly crept into your ear, and bookending the album. The album doesn’t have the devil-may-care energy of such early songs as “Old Friend,” and towards the middle of the album, a jolt of that would be welcome. Over nine years, lineup permutations, and thousands of venues both decrepit and grand, the band has clamped down on sound that reflects these experiences, retaining their romantic synth qualities, if no longer the thrash-dance sensibility.