Future Islands, Singles

Geeta Dayal

By Geeta Dayal

on 03.25.14 in Reviews

On paper, Future Islands might sound like a dull proposition: A synthpop band with definite retro ’80s leanings. But what the Baltimore trio have figured out, more than any of their contemporaries mining similar territory, was that the greatest synth pop (or new wave, or whatever you’d like to call it) wasn’t ironic or self-conscious at all. Bands like Depeche Mode and Duran Duran wrote songs that were widescreen and over-the-top in their emotional impact. At times the music verged on total hubris, but that was part of the magic. Future Islands’ fourth album, bearing the hilariously self-assured title Singles, shows that the band has cracked this secret code.

Cracking the secret synthpop code

We also often forget, looking back now, that the brittle beats and cool electronic textures of synthpop were often paired with rich, expressive voices, and Future Islands benefit hugely from the dramatic voice and undeniable charisma of lead singer Samuel T. Herring. Herring follows in a long line of great synthpop vocalists, like Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, Phil Oakey of the Human League, Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran and Marc Almond of Soft Cell. (Herring also, curiously, sounds a bit like Glenn Danzig, in the terrified urgency of his voice, which sometimes borders on a punkish growl.)

Singles kicks off with “Seasons (Waiting on You),” which the band performed on Letterman to great acclaim a few weeks ago. The album maintains the momentum over 10 songs, peaking with the ballad “A Song for Our Grandfathers.” It’s one of those huge ballads that seems to stop time in its tracks — the cigarette-lighter-in-the-air song that Future Islands will be playing in stadiums sometime soon.