Future Islands’s Samuel T. Herring is obsessed with perpetual motion. His lyrics often revolve around the relentless churn of nature’s forces and time’s unyielding flow, and this fixation on all things kinetic continues unabated on the Baltimore synth-pop band’s The Far Field. This is an album preoccupied with traveling long roads in pursuit of the unobtainable and racing to embrace transcendent moments of fleeting human connection. Set to tightly wound, bass-driven grooves and warm synth washes, Herring’s effusive lyrics and impassioned vocals reveal the vulnerabilities of a restless artist whose self-proclaimed love for touring has cost him to lose out on romance.
Herring revisits the theme of bygone days of youth and lost love throughout The Far Field, most directly on “The Beauty of the Road.” Addressing an old flame, the Future Islands frontman admits to hunting for a replacement for the euphoria of holding her in his arms, and he questions his life choices: “Spend your whole life wishing and working/And all you get is the end of the road.” Given that Herring is capable of this type of compelling introspection, it’s all the more frustrating that he so often relies on sweeping proclamations and repeated, oversimplified nature metaphors. Women here are described as blooming roses (“Time on Her Side”), young love grows in “the dew of the field” (“Aladdin”), fizzled romance is chilled by the wind and snows of winter (“Cave”), and lost lovers become shadows and ghosts throughout the album.
The band switches things up on the album, but it feels more like tweaking a formula than breaking new ground.
Herring’s unique and dynamic voice, earnest and impassioned whether unleashed at full wail or tempered to a guttural croak, transcends many of the album’s lackluster lyrical moments, but cloaking so many of his emotions in overwrought metaphor and flowery imagery weakens a vocal presence that would cut more deeply with pointed insights rather than broad strokes. As unique as Herring’s voice is, and as distinctive as the band’s bright, bass-driven music about gloomy topics may be, Future Islands remains in a holding pattern on The Far Field, seemingly content to take what works and repeat it ad nauseam. As infectious as they can be, William Cashion’s galloping basslines grow redundant when stretched in similar fashion across 12 tracks.
Future Islands does switch up a few things, adding tour drummer Michael Lowry to their recording process for the first time and pairing Herring’s husky voice with featured guest Debbie Harry’s rasp on “Shadow.” But these efforts feel more like tweaking a formula than breaking new ground. Songs about unrequited love will never go out of style, but The Far Field would be better served by occasionally taking the road less traveled.