The music on Samuel T Herring and co’s seventh album is as affecting and impassioned as ever
It’s been 10 years now since Future Islands went viral. A performance on Late Show With David Letterman saw the Baltimore quartet perform their single Seasons (Waiting On You), and for the first time a mainstream audience was introduced to the extraordinary stage presence of Samuel T Herring. As Herring danced, growled and beat his chest, to the famously curmudgeonly Letterman’s obvious delight, it was clear that a YouTube clip was about to introduce Future Islands to a whole new audience.
A decade on and the Future Islands sound is now a pretty familiar one – sleek, synth pop, enhanced by Herring’s emotive vocals. At their best, they can be the sort of band you can sway along to with tears in your eyes: there’s an unabashed romanticism to Herring’s lyrics which can often pull on the heartstrings.
People Who Aren’t There Anymore, the band’s seventh album, has that quality in spades, mainly thanks to Herring’s newly found single status. Whereas 2020’s As Long As You Are found the singer loved-up and optimistic, in 2024 he’s single again and lovelorn. Not a situation you’d wish on anyone of course, but heartbreak does tend to give Future Islands’ songs an added dimension.
King Of Sweden, which kicks off the album, is one of their best ever songs – a big, yearning anthem, full of longing with Herring reflecting on travelling on the M1 “feeling like I’m 15” and meeting the titular monarch (Herring’s former partner is from Stockholm). It’s the impassioned cry of “you are all I need” that poignantly sticks in the memory though.
The Tower has a similarly wistful tone to it, the muted electronics contrasting nicely with Herring’s delivery of lines like “I lie, I tell myself it’s okay, when it’s not quite”, while the bruised vulnerability of Say Goodnight is a beautiful break-up song, musing on the way distance can tear a couple apart – “every day without you, feels one closer to goodbye”.
Some may find Herring’s vocals a bit too mannered for their own good – it’s true that sometimes he can slip into self-parody with a few too many grunts and howls. Yet it would be a stony heart indeed that could be unmoved by the way he delivers lines like “I belong, I belong to you” on the spacey ballad Deep In The Night, or The Sickness’ examination of how the pandemic tore Herring’s relationship apart (“the sickness came in like a freight train, and swept us into small towns… I had to watch it fall apart from here”).
With a vocalist as expressive as Herring, the rest of his band are wise enough to remain unobtrusively in the background – but Gerrit Welmers’ keyboards are as sleek and smooth as ever, while William Cashion does his best Peter Hook impression to keep these songs driving along. It’s the emotion though that Herring pours into each song that gives them an added dimension – whether it be downbeat and determined on The Fight or heartfelt and passioned on Give Me The Ghost Back.
There may be no real surprises on People Who Aren’t There Anymore, but that hardly matters. They may no longer possess the surprise factor that delighted David Letterman so much, but Future Islands remain as affecting and impassioned as ever.