After three long years of relentless touring, Baltimore’s finest, Future Islands, released their sixth studio album, As Long As You Are. The band has always taken inspiration from a wide net of influences that include Ian Curtis of Joy Division, New Order, Danzig, Jim Morrison and even Three 6 Mafia. This latest release also draws a great deal of inspiration from Sweden, what with front man Sam Herring trading the streets of Baltimore for the rural Swedish countryside, enjoying the nature and solitude. For him, “Sweden is a new healthy place in his life and a place of calm and acceptance.”
On first listen it is very apparent that there is a shift in energy from 2017’s The Far Field. As Long As You Are is much more of an introspective and haunting album than prior releases. On past albums Herring’s vulnerability and heartbreak was mostly masked by upbeat new-wave synths and his energetic performances. In contrast, I Knew You is a somber piece about Herring finally getting closure around a past relationship, one so intertwined in the band’s history that almost every one of the band’s records has a song that deals with it (“Cuz all that you sighed / Was, “what if ‘Long Flight’ was about you?” / But it was and it was about you too”). (Long Flight is a track off of 2010’s In Evening Air and details an extremely rough break-up from Herring’s past)
The following track, City’s Face, makes for a one-two punch of gut-wrenching heartbreak. Inspired by another failed relationship, one that left Herring feeling paranoid, sick and tired of Baltimore and wanting to leave. Accustomed to Future Islands’ dynamic and lively performances, it took me quite a few listens to get into these slower, darker tracks. Rather than a sweaty packed club, many of the songs on the first half of the album are more at home on a quiet walk home late at night.
In contrast, As Long As You Are’s first single, For Sure, is akin to the Future Islands I’ve come to know and love, equal parts Herring’s baritone vocals, Gerrit Welmers’ dreamy synths and Will Cashion’s heavy bass lines. This song would easily feel at home on 2014’s Singles. Herring has always worn his heart on his sleeve and the main themes here are love and trust (“I will never keep you from an open door / I know, you know / That’s how much I feel in everything you are / You know, I know”). The genesis of these these lyrics coming from his new life in Sweden, having relocated from Baltimore in order to live with his partner.
The second half of the album kicks off with Waking, its fast-paced, catchy synths, continuing the energy that For Sure set the bar with. Herring’s simple plea in the chorus (“Give a little bit / Give a little bit / Give a little bit / Give a little of you”) focuses on the fact in today’s cultural climate we can’t just sit back and not say / do something. Sometimes just stopping to say hello is a simple way for us to help out our neighbors.
My biggest complaint with As Long As Your Are is that it feels formulaic and par for the course for Future Islands. It doesn’t feel like any huge leaps were taken in making this album. That being said, Future Islands has and will always be a live band, something that you can’t really replicate on a record. The band cut its teeth and earned its reputation by relentlessly touring year in and out and always putting on passionate, energetic shows. In 2014 when they got their big break and performed Seasons (Waiting on You) on The Late Show with David Letterman, the band played a mind boggling 169 shows across the globe. Hell, even a slow year still sees them playing 40 to 50 shows (which works out to almost one a week).
The quintessential bittersweet synth sounds coupled with Herrings’ amazing vocals, that can range from smooth and soulful to fiery and raspy all within a 3-minute window, make for a truly amazing live performance. Add in those infamous dance moves and as David Letterman said at the end of their performance back in 2014, “I’ll take all of that you got.”
Is the album groundbreaking or my favorite from Future Islands’ catalogue? No. Is it a solid synth-pop album? Yes. Would I go see the band live as they tour this album? You better believe it.