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Future Islands: As Long as You Are

When listening to Future Islands’ discography, one gets the impression that each album is a reaction to the one that came before it. This goes back to their early work, when the gloomy, contemplative On the Water followed the more manic, jittery In Evening Air. This happened again in 2017, when the band wrote another mood piece in The Far Field to follow up their breakthrough album Singles. In that case, though, the reactive nature of Future Islands felt nonmusical; there was little on The Far Field that was immediately gripping, perhaps as a test to see if the people who were drawn to “Seasons (Waiting on You)” as a meme were seriously interested the band. It was a self-conscious album, and it felt slightly aimless as a result. Inevitably, the band has responded with an album that is bright, focused and full of purpose.

As a band, Future Islands have always worked best as a propulsive force. Their best songs move with a relentless momentum that makes the dramatic sweep of Samuel T. Herring’s vocals both plausible and fitting. It was an element of their sound that The Far Field largely ignored, but it returns with a vengeance on As Long as You Are. Obviously, lead single “For Sure” has that necessary kick, but album tracks like “Born in a War,” “Waking” and “Plastic Beach” have the same verve in how seamlessly they combine quick, live rhythms with the band’s structured synth-pop. This isn’t to say that the album is a nonstop party; the band allocates time for the moody, low-key aspects of their sound. However, where the mood pieces of The Far Field perhaps indicated a struggle to create complete ideas, the likes of “City’s Face” and “Thrill” fit in seamlessly with the mood of the album and the mood the band has cultivated throughout their career up to this point. In a lot of ways, As Long as You Are is the platonic ideal of what a Future Islands album should be.

Crucially, the album feels right. Perhaps this is a result of the band eschewing a producer in favor of doing everything themselves, or it could be their desire to reset themselves after having a hard time recording The Far Field. Whatever the case, As Long as You Are feels of a piece with the band’s earlier records in a way that even Singles wasn’t. The band borrows just enough from ‘80s synth-pop and post-punk to sound welcomingly familiar, and Herring’s existential questions return in a more mature fashion. At times comforting and at times filled with despair, Herring performs here with a clarity unheard on previous albums. The high drama he partakes in will likely continue to be an acquired taste to some, but he remains key to everything that makes this band so distinct and so compulsively listenable all at once.

Too often, critics and artists alike get bogged down with the notion of progress. Truthfully, an album doesn’t necessarily need to show progress to show growth. On the surface, As Long as You Are doesn’t seem to push Future Islands forward, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rather than trying to upend their core sound, the album reinforces it and finds the band focusing on the things that made people love them in the first place.

In a lot of ways, this is the platonic ideal of what a Future Islands album should be.
79 %
Synth-toned homecoming
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