Somewhere between the wickedly erratic and the wonderfully euphoric lies the magic of Future Islands.
It is a magic that will make listeners dance but later haunt their dreams. It is a magic that has been brewing for many years and has come to fruition with Singles , the Baltimore synth rock group’s latest album.
Singles challenge s the stereotypes of synth dance pop with its own mysterious and seemingly limitless formula.
With the help of Sam Herring’s signature vocals, the group lets the synthesizer and bass guitar lay the framework for countless catchy rhythms (“Sun in the Morning ” and “Doves ”) while Herring showcases his pipes without the aid of auto-tune or another filter.
Singles manages to toe the line of Future Islands signature strange darkness and clean, emotional pop music. It truly is the band at its best.
Herring’s singing is a guaranteed adventure as it swoons listeners with one intimate hook but slaps them with a menacing growl in the next line.
However, Singles stands out because it simultaneously challenges the stereotypes of Future Islands as a band. Herring’s sporadic vocals and the choreographed chaos in the band’s electrifying live performances have suggested that listeners should expect the unexpected.
Singles naturally fosters an accessibility into the band’s kaleidoscope world, an element previous albums have lacked.
Herring still growls manically (“Fall From Grace ”) but counters it by lovingly welcoming listeners to explore their buried emotions with him, the emotions that other synth pop acts may gloss over with one too many special effects.
This emotional exploration ranges from finding self-confidence with “Spirit ” to preserving relationships in the standouts “Seasons (Waiting on You) ” and “A Dream of You and Me .”
However, no other song embodies Future Islands’ progression than “Back in the Tall Grass .”
Herring gently speaks of cherished memories in the nostalgic song as he takes a backseat to his usual frenzy and allows the synthesizer and bass to mesh with him and pull listeners into the song’s imagery.
The band is not telling listeners about the song’s childhood experience, it is making them feel it.
On the surface, Singles ’ pop may seem bright and direct, like a flashlight beaming onto a fluorescent window. But the moment listeners accept Herring’s invitation to journey through that window, that light is refracted like a prism into an intense and infinite rainbow of sound and emotion.
The album’s ambiance would not be complete without listeners’ eagerness to engage in the curious world of the band.
While Herring directly sends the invitation, the perfect storm comes when the whole band shares the spotlight like “Back in the Tall Grass.”
This pulls in listeners in a way that cannot be resisted, nor should it be for something new can be discovered in each listen of the band’s unraveling magic.