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CD of The Week

Week of 1/29/24

    Future Islands - People Who Aren't There Anymore (4AD)

    This is not your father's 80's New Wave band. However, Future Islands have evoked the biggest synth-pop bands (Depeche Mode, OMD, New Order) with great fervor over the last 15 years and seven albums; perfecting an approach to their music that is both refreshing and unique. In general, synthwave has almost become a caricature of itself, as every bedroom musician with a computer and a drum machine can crank out simple, catchy (and often vapid) melodies at the drop of the hat. What separates these Baltimore natives from the rest is an innate ability to work as a cohesive unit. Frontman Samuel T. Herring might not be where he is today without his crafty rhythm section (William Cashion - bass, Gerritt Welmers - keys, Michael Lowry - drums) bobbing and weaving with his every howl and growl; sculpting the sonic fields for his achingly genuine poetry. The beauty of this symbiosis is on full display for their seventh, and most polished, release yet. People Who Aren't There Anymore is essentially a break-up album, as an ocean and a pandemic separated Herring from his Swedish romantic partner and ultimately caused the relationship’s dissolution, fueling the thesis of this album.

    These 12 tracks were crafted between 2020 and 2023, so overall, it feels less immediate but very intimate. It's a testament to Herring's powerful lyricism, brimming with desolation and optimism equally. The first three singles ("Peach," "King Of Sweden," "The Tower") are actually some of their best to date, which puts the rest of this album into a constant state of playing catch-up. Fortunately, the strength of the remaining output stands on its own. "Say Goodbye" tip-toes in with tinkling keys and finds Herring lamenting about the break-up and the subsequent anxiety-fueled insomnia, then dives right into a signature Cashion bass line. Not unlike Depeche Mode's latest swan song, "Give Me The Ghost Back" deals with the devastating loss of loved ones in both life and death; "Terror is a long dark night, Half awake with the onеs who died". Drummer Lowry experiments with some fresh beats on "Iris" which propels the song along with a fetching groove. There are also a few standard "slow jams" that regularly show up on a Future Islands record; most notable is "The Fight" in which Herring is at his most vulnerable; "I couldn't stand the rain, So I ran away, And all I found was snow." Even at his lowest, by holding on to hope, he can still stay in the fight.

    While Future Islands have matured over the years and definitively mastered their craft, they occasionally suffer from sounding too familiar and comfortable. A few steps into unknown territory would serve them well in their future endeavors to help breathe new life into the genres they crossover. During the last two tracks ("The Sickness" and "The Garden Wheel"), a few flourishes of guitar add just the right amount of pizazz that could be that missing spark. Thankfully, lyrics like "There's a tower in the ocean, Pouring through me, That's my will and testament" prove that there's plenty of chest pounding and soul-bearing for years to come.

    Review by Dave Lindquist

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