Future Islands - Plan B - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Future Islands - Plan B

by Darren Loucaides Rating: Release Date:

There's something ridiculous about Future Islands. It's not the layers of ethereal keys, the doomy bone-trembling bass, or the perpetual motion of their electronic drums: these are splendidly crafted and to be admired unconditionally. No, it's Samuel Herring's bewildering voice that does it.

Throatily deep, then screeching high…growling demon-like, then gracefully lingering over a lofty note…Herring explores his mountainous vocal range like a man possessed. It's this quality that makes Future Islands special, but the hint of absurdity it brings with it can be a barrier that some sadly won't cross.

Seeing the Baltimore trio live only escalates the absurdity. The bassist and synth player quietly manning their stations are absorbed and unpretentious. But Herring, a balding, slightly corpulent thirty-something wearing a salmon shirt tucked into tan trousers looks like an '80s estate agent with a penchant for Phil Collins. Incongruously, he pours thick, heady emotion into every lyric, his face contorted by desperation, ecstasy, misery, sometimes all at once. One hand clutches the mic' like a poisoned chalice; the other claws at his face, reaches heavenwards Hamlet-like, or probes between his lips to withdraw some precious (invisible) elixir he proceeds to anoint the crowd with. Then suddenly he'll dart across the stage stooping low as though trying to exhort empathy from one particular spectator, or leap into the air to exalt at a particularly thunderous swell of synths. It's melodramatic, intensely theatrical, and, yes, a little comical. But we're not laughing at him, you understand.

The set is largely made up of songs from last year's Evening Air, songs only enhanced by the frontman's performance. There's something compellingly creepy about the way he utters the line from 'Long Flight': "So I whisper into your ear, 'Who are you thinking about?'" In 'Walking Through That Door', which we're told is about helping someone through a crisis, it's as though you can see the drama played out before your eyes: Herring wallowing in the depths, scooping up the addressee, and hoisting them upon his shoulders.

Songs from the band's third record, out in October, are generally slower and more ambient - galactically so - but the sense of seesawing drama hasn't been lost. In 'Before the Bridge', the refrain "Do you believe in love?" is demanded of different members of the audience with a pleading, outstretched arm.

There's a bizarre sincerity to Herring's ridiculousness that I love. He isn't the larger-than-life avatar suggested by that voice, but his ordinary squareish uncool serves to close the distance between audience and frontman(-as-demi-god). He's any one of us, only more willing to fearlessly share the depths of his torment and peaks of rapture.

Towards the end of the set, Herring makes us aware of the impending curfew: "But if you scream loud enough," he adds, "waho knows what could happen?" The crowd's response is impressive, especially for such a small venue - and the encore does happen. First there's the band's most ridiculous song to date, 'Beach Foam', which screamed at full intensity makes more sense live. It's followed by their most fun song, 'Old Friend', from 2009 debut Wave Like Home, for which we all join in Future Islands' distinct brand of battered jubilation. By the end we're emotionally exhausted, but it was worth it. And besides, how the hell must Herring feel?

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