Future Islands have been a band with great potential for the past several years, delivering several decent albums, but somehow it always felt that the combination of Samuel T. Herring’s freakish vocals and new-wave synths fell just short of true brilliance. However, the band’s newest album ‘Singles’ finally sees them fulfil their promise, with their sound becoming just that little bit more slicker and sophisticated.
Give Us The Wind opens tonight’s show in a fairly understated manner – the synths and bass are quite plain, but Herring’s animated presence and wild vocals are an inspiration. He absorbs all attention with his ceaseless energy, and of course his unpredictable vocals drive the song forward. Back In The Tall Grass sees the instrumentation match up to the standard set by the vocals, with a pleasing bass hook anchoring the song. Again Herring’s presence and vocal prowess are the key point here. His vocals are something remarkable on record, but they just can’t capture the crazed action of his live performance. The vocals are just so unpredictable there is no way of knowing if the next word is going to be sung in his rich baritone, growled with a vicious fury, or if he’s just going to aggressively expel air from his mouth. Whatever he does is done with a wild passion, and the huge amount of effort he puts into the show creates a wonderful spectacle.
Sun In The Morning is beautiful, sunny synth-pop track with the rumbling bass giving the song a full sound, and the optimistic tune can’t fail put a smile on your face. Doves, featuring fabulous dance moves from Herring, is a strong performance, and the uplifting yet mournful synths of In The Fall are fiercely emotional, with the vocals again jumping and assaulting our ears with crazed energy. Herring’s vocals are highly unorthodox, at times his voice sounds like it would be ideal for jazz or blues, at other moments you can’t help thinking he could front a metal band. But here he is singing for a synth-pop group. The wonderful thing is, the group have hit on a winning formula; the instruments occupy their own little space that allows them to create catchy riffs and the like, but never encroach on Herring’s huge presence. On paper their sound shouldn’t really work, but in practice the group are compelling to watch.
Spirit is a massive performance, with the the full-bodied bassline once more providing the perfect foil for the airy synths and as always Herring’s vocals are jaw-droppingly brilliant. Fall From Grace sees Herring deliver an even more intense vocal display, and he falls to his knees from the force of his growls. It is almost as if whatever beast inside of him that is creating these unearthly noises is fit to burst out. The equally throat ripping Beach Foam is yet another top-notch tune, but the set closes a bit weakly with Vireo’s Eye. Aside from the fact Herring seems truly spent, the song lacks the catchiness of the previous tunes. It scarcely matters though; Future Islands have stumbled upon an outstanding, unique sound that comes to life in the most extraordinary ways when performed live, and the character that is Herring has to be one of the most charismatic frontmen around right now.
Header photo from last show in Vicar Street 2013