By Emily Votaw
In the post-post-post punk world where the Future Islands discography exists – where romanticism runs wild and every heartbreak is the most meaningful one and synths have the power to change the direction of an album — Samuel Herring, Gerrit Welmers, William Cashion and occasionally Michael Lowry have finally cleaned up their production enough to show everyone what they have really been creating under that formerly unpracticed instrumentation. The creation of an album that so closely incorporates the corniest and most heartfelt aspects of mid-career The Cure, solo Morrissey and the lesser creations of Echo & the Bunnymen and Bauhaus that it practically feels like a fan tribute.
With Herring’s frustrated Bryan Ferry/angry Morrissey/calm Matt Johnson growl guiding the listener through some cheesy but endearing synths, it’s hard not to not at least begrudgingly enjoy “Singles,” the band’s most recent effort. Every song is about a breakup or some unfathomable sadness that can only be expressed with pseudo-’80s instrumentation, and there is something so comforting about that. “Singles” holds no surprises for anyone who has been exposed to any of Future Islands’ previous works (especially 2011’s “On the Water,” which had a familiar waterside vibe going on), but that doesn’t mean that the album isn’t interesting and even moving in the oddly familiar way hearing “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at an undergraduate party at some dilapidated house in your early twenties might be.
Because something about great post-punk music is vaguely adolescent, vaguely cloying and eager to jump on whatever heartstrings it can find. The synths on the opening track and first single, “Seasons (Waiting on You),” are a cheap trick, but an effective one. Pair that with lyrics like “People change, some people never do/And when people change they gain a piece but they lose one too,” such obvious middle school realizations, but such profound middle school realizations. Post-punk consists of more than the very select type of art-pop that Future Islands have going on, but the influence of a particular branch of pretty-but-tragic soaring synths type of post punk is undeniable after exactly one listen to “Singles.”
Some of the songs are based on very specific imagery, most of it having to do with the shore or sound effects that are reminiscent of waves washing across the sand. “Sun in the Morning” is a slightly more positive note than a great deal of the album, with optimistic horn samples and a simple lyrical structure dependent on Herring’s declarations about the sun in the morning. Like all of the tracks on “Singles,” “Sun in the Morning” is a listenable (and re-listenable, and stuck-in-your-head-able) tune and also a mess of tacky instrumentation but incredibly sincere musicianship.
Although some of the tracks start with unfamiliar Future Islands territory, musically, like “Fall From Grace,” which truly takes a page from “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me”-era Cure (and somehow not in a good way), things fall into the typical diagram of a song penned by Herring when his vocals and instrumentation intensify. Even if they unfortunately fall into an odd pseudo-screamo mode at one point, something that fans can only hope that Herring does not continue. Because his voice is too interesting and his vocal performances are too entrancing to only be misused so horrendously.
The album ends with “A Dream of You and Me,” a perfect example of how all Future Islands songs, and by extension, all Future Islands albums, are about disintegrating relationships. Herring does his best, leaving listeners with a noble tune that is so sincere, so honest, so endearing that it’s hard to not keep listening.