You root for albums like Singles more than you enjoy them. Fans know that Baltimore’s Future Islands are a magnificent band propelled by vocalist Sam Herring delivering every line as if he were plucked mid-monologue from a Shakespearean tragedy, but David Letterman straight-up geeking out over their performance on his program has brought this information to a wider audience. It’s tough to think of a band more deserving; 2010’s In Evening Air established Future Islands as masterful new-wave romantics and 2011’s On The Water was an equally impressive, though more meditative expansion of their sound. After two impeccable records deserving of widespread attention and adulation, they’ve finally grasped a chunk of spotlight, which makes the fact that Singles is unfortunately a less-than kind of a bummer. The record listens like how a later season of a great television show watches: the thrills you’ve come to expect are still there, but things feel familiar and there’s a prime looming conspicuously in the past.
It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just it lacks the subtle bits that make their past stuff soar. Future Islands’ sonic makeup is narrow to begin with; there’s only so much one can do with four-on-the-floor percussion and prominent bass lines, and where compelling arrangements and slick production helped the songs transcend their simplistic form, both feel somewhat tempered on Singles. Herring wrings as much emotion as he can out of plodding, simplistic grooves but notable exceptions include “Seasons (Waiting On You)” where the dramatic rush of the chorus so endearingly interpreted on Letterman makes it tower above the LP, while “Sun In The Morning” and “A Dream Of You And Me” work relatively interesting hooks. It all contributes to the fact Singles is the good, albeit somewhat-monotonous record In Evening Air could have been if not for its urgency and the record On the Water could have been were it not for its thoughtful melancholy. If you’re new to Future Islands, start with those as they display their true greatness.
Listen: “Sun In The Morning”, “A Dream Of You And Me”, “Light House” || Watch: “Seasons (Waiting On You)”