Future Islands Continue Toward Their Destination on 'People Who Aren't There Anymore'

BY Luke PearsonPublished Jan 22, 2024


Future Islands have had a career a lot like their songwriting: slow burning, quietly consistent, favouring delayed gratification over immediacy. The Baltimore band release albums of measured synth-pop regularly but unhurriedly, in a robustly unique style seemingly removed from the tumble and churn of contemporary pop trends.

With three albums already behind them when they garnered national attention with 2014’s Singles, the notably guitar-free quartet was already in confident stride when they entered the public consciousness. As a result, their albums since then have felt almost inevitably solid and reliable. In lesser bands this could lead to stagnation, but when your style is as distinctive as Future Islands' — and when you have the tirelessly expressive Samuel T. Herring as your frontman, it’s more of a marination, a deepening of established strengths.

And that’s largely what we get on People Who Aren’t There Anymore, the seasoned band’s seventh album overall: a great, often excellent effort containing at least a couple outstanding moments that see Future Islands really crystallize as its best self. There are some overly familiar moments and the album essentially offers more of the same, but it’s arguably their best work since Singles, the group’s still-reigning high-water mark.

And there is something kind of new this time around: astute listeners will notice the (subtle) tones of a six-string guitar here and there. There's some particularly delicate interplay between this new texture and Gerrit Welmers’s synths on “The Fight” for instance, although wisely not enough to get in the way of the sparkle.

As the only member capable of meaningful polyphony, a lot rides on Welmer and his keys — any and all colour is provided by him, and he always acquits himself tastefully: never too little, never too much. Even something as basic as his soundbank (an avenue of expression many players forget in the never-ending march of patches and plugins) shows artistic vision: from shimmering pads with weird, dissonant edges to sharp staccato arpeggios, he’s arguably just as responsible for the band’s inimitable style as Herring.

As for the latter, we’re all familiar by now with his potent mix of poetry and physicality (it was his legendarily impassioned Letterman performance in 2014 that shot Future Islands into the semi-mainstream), and whether he’s riding a pulsing dance beat or belting it out in a typically majestic ballad (check out the wrenching crescendo of “Corner of the Eye” for a particularly transcendent moment), his articulate throatiness is as unmistakable as ever, diving into stories of the interpersonal with an energy not dissimilar to Gang of Youths’ David Le’aupepe. Like the rest of the band, he manages to revisit his strengths without sounding too much like he’s going through the motions. Sometimes, staying in your lane gets you where you need to be. 


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