AM I ALONE IN BEING OUT OF STEP?

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I like my 80s synth-pop and I like bands who pay tribute to it in exciting and innovative ways. I was therefore keen to give Singles by Future Islands a try given most reviews upon its release as well as reviews of music in 2014 raved about it.

The first time I ever heard of Future Islands, despite this release being their fourth studio album, was when they featured in a guest posting from S-WC back in April 2014. He was looking at bands whose name began with the letter F and he wrote this:-

Talking of great records, a few weeks ago Future Islands released Seasons (Waiting on You), which is right now holding firm as the best record I have heard this year. Yup better than Happy by Pharrell Williams.

Just after the release of their fourth album Singles the band were invited on to the Letterman Show and there they played ‘Seasons’ and delivered a performance so staggering, so jaw droppingly fucking magnificent that all of a sudden a big secret had been let out of the bag. Put ‘Future Islands Letterman’ into a search engine and you will understand.

I took SW-Cs advice. There is no argument from me that it is one of the most spellbinding things, from a musical context, that I’ve ever seen as part of a TV programme.

Later on in the year, Aldo caught Future Islands playing live in Glasgow and included Seasons (Waiting On You) as one of the tracks to go with his review-of-the-year piece. And so, I was very happy when in a mainstream record store last week (tracking down a DVD boxset on sale) to spot that Singles could be bought for just £5.

The record open with Seasons. It is a beguiling and interesting opening. As the live clip demonstrates, Samuel T Herring croons, swoops and growls his way above a tune that is very atypical of some of the very best synth-pop bands of the 80s. I really do like Seasons…..it’s a cracking bit of music while the vocal has you dredging your memory banks to come up with a comparator but in the end you conclude that he is unique, although the one name I couldn’t shift out of my head was Cee Lo Green.

The next song to come out of the speakers is Spirit which musically struck me as a cross between Vince Clarke era Depeche Mode and OMD but which vocally annoyed the hell out of me without me really being able to explain why. Come track 4 on the CD and I’d got it…Herring reminded far too often of the vocal gymnastics performed by Mick Hucknall’s MOR pap when the record buying public went crazy for them.

In short…other than the opening track, this record is a real letdown bar one or two snippets of music that were interesting – Light House (track 7) has some nifty guitar work reminiscent of New Order on their early 80s albums. I accept that it would be near impossible to maintain the high expectations from the opener but the sad thing is none of the other nine songs really come remotely close. I just found it really boring and unmemorable. I thought back to A Flock of Seagulls who had one great single and very little to back it up – but we found ourselves more than three decades ago noticing them and talking cos the frontman had a great and strange haircut while today we have noticed and are talking about Future Islands cos the frontman does crazy wee dances and is passionate about his vocal delivery in a live setting.

Maybe my expectations going in were too high but I found the record to be no more exciting than any new record by Coldplay and I am at a loss to understand why so many folk are creaming their underwear over something so lifeless, dull and dreary. When the record ended I just felt it had consisted of one of two constant and repetitive drum and synth beats – either uptempo groove or even worse lumpen slow stuff which would be a great cute for insomnia.

Singles has had folk raving about in throughout 2014 but I reckon come 2016 most folk will look back on their fawning reviews and be embarrassed.

I very rarely use this blog to pen negative stuff – if I’m not a fan I prefer to say nothing at all. There’s plenty of vinyl and CD in the collection that I haven’t ever mentioned this past eight and a bit years for that very reason. But given this is a time when I seem to be so out of sync – you’ll struggle to find anywhere a bad word said about this record – I’m going to make an exception.

As I said at the outset, I really do like my 80s synth-pop and I like bands who pay tribute to it in exciting and innovative ways. Future Islands, on this showing, do no such thing.

Try these instead:-

mp3 : White Lies – To Lose My Life
mp3 : Ladyhawke – Magic
mp3 : Delphic – Doubt

14 thoughts on “AM I ALONE IN BEING OUT OF STEP?

  1. Don’t worry JC – you are not alone. A lot of record can’t fullfill high expectations. Not that it’s a bad record but it didn’t hit me. In Germany we call this ones as they are neither fish nor flesh.

  2. Same here. Only heard a few tracks but I just find the singer too annoying. A better bet is the destroyer lp from 2013, which has shades of new gold dream

  3. That about sums it up. Seasons came in at No. 10 on my list of tracks for 2014, but the album never sniffed my year-end list. If I happen across the 7″, I will sell the album.

  4. The Letterman performance was jaw dropping and career boosting in a way that doesn’t happen very often these days, but used to on TOTP. I can still remember the first time I saw Sparks performing ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us’, Magazine tearing up the place with ‘Shot By Both Sides’ and many others, all of which were what are now thought of as ‘water cooler moments’ the next day. Unfortunately, in Future Islands’ case, I’d have to agree that ‘Seasons’ is by far the best thing they’ve got, at least so far.
    (BTW, the one name I can’t get out of my head when listening to ‘Seasons’ is Roland Gift – is it just me?)

  5. I find most of today’s synth-pop incredibly unimaginative and boring. Too many art-school hipsters with no tunes. But then, I’m probably the only person in the world that can’t rate ‘Seasons’ any higher than with a dismissive “meh”!

  6. Spot on, JC. Though I’d go further – I’m not even sure that Seasons is anything special – I certainly don’t get the buzz around it. And re Letterman, I’m struggling to see what’s so earth shattering about the live performance. It’s hardly Elvis on telly for the first time. Has no-one seen a live frontman before? I’m sure he “means it, man” but so does Bono, whom many describe as an arse when he dances and postures on stage. Good luck to Future Islands. I wish them no ill. But not for me.

  7. I’m with Jacques – not too impressed with ‘Seasons’ and can’t be bothered with anything else. Saw them live and they were boring.
    Hate to say it but…we’re old. Bands like this were a dime a dozen when we were 20 and mean nothing now. Let the kids dance to it if they like.

  8. I included Singles in my favorite albums of the year, but I’ve been giving Future Islands a bunch of my time over their career. I don’t tend to mesh what they do with what may have influenced them – not in a way I do with say, Cut Copy – so they don’t suffer the comparisons as much as they may with others. There certainly is a difference between the synthpop of the 80’s and the more computer generated synthpop of the now. Even great bands like OMD choose to use “soft-synths” over analog on album and in performance these days – which can be a bit of a sonic let down. Those efforts of the past shine in all their analog and naive digital glory.

  9. I have to agree, Seasons aside, the album is dull and pretty samey. Sadly I think it’s the case these days that a frontman who is even slightly different is going to stand out from the crowd. Once you get past that though there isn’t enough there music wise to hold the interest.

    That said, I do still think Seasons is a belter of a tune and soundtracked my summer (and year), seemingly being omnipresent in bars, clubs and festivals – hence the reason I chose it to accompany my annual review. And when I hear it again years down the line, it’ll remind me of 2014…and the album will have likely been untouched since then.

  10. Wow. I didn’t expect to get that sort of overwhelming reaction.

    JTFL’s comment about us being old I’m sure has a lot to do with it in terms of us having seen and heard it all before…but then again there are singers and bands out there who make a living out of recycling sounds from a bygone era and are more than half-decent at it.

    Jacques – I agree that the Letterman performance was hardly ‘Elvis on telly for the first time’ but in an era when so many live TV performances are antiseptic and predictable, I felt there was a bit of a wow factor. Maybe it was more to do with looking at the front man and not quite equating what he did next with what you were remotely expecting – in a sense it was like the initial Susan Boyle moment on that talent show where, even if you’re not a fan of her singing style you had to admit it made for an incredible few minutes of telly viewing.

    S-WC…as I said, it was your initial posting of the song that first brought it to my attention and, like Aldo, I think that Seasons is a belter of a tune. But we will just need to agree to disagree on the merits of the LP.

    Bill………your comment made me laugh out loud and reminded me of just how much fun it is to go drinking and debate music, politics and life in general with you. We must meet up again soon….I’ll bring Aldo along as he’d love your company (as indeed would everyone else!!)

    Thanks folks for contributing to what turned out to be a largely one-sided debate which, as I say, surprised me. T(n)VV obviously has a discerning readership.

    And if anyone out there wants to contribute an equally negative review about something that everyone else is raving about, then please drop me an e-mail. As ever, all contributions are welcome.

  11. hey jc

    listen to ‘back in the tall grass’… that’s the best song on the album…

    and i’m going to have to disagree with most… i think they are great… and singles is one of my favourite albums from last year… but i have been following them for a few years… and have seen them in many a small venue… they are much better live though… so good that i got to the brighton concorde when doors opened and stood front and centre through 2 support bands just so i could be there when future islands were on… something i certainly never have done in my 45 years…

    jim

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