Future Islands are a band whose brilliance was always hiding in plain sight. One viral moment might have catapulted them to worldwide recognition, but they were just doing what they always did – pouring their heart and soul into every moment, and channelling art’s great power to spread love and hope. It was, quite simply, who they are. Yet success is a fickle beast. Burn out, self-doubt, wrestling with expectations; Future Islands have been through them all and emerged with As Long As You Are, an album all about trust, and one that triumphantly begins their third act.
Long, hard years on the road, and the sense of constantly travelling away from something, have shaped the band many ways, both spiritually and physically. Always leaving, never arriving, the horizon an impossible destination to be chased but never caught. But As Long As You Are looks the other way. It gazes tenderly at what we’ve got to come home to and how that nourishes us, however far away we may be.
This reverence starts on the cover, a pristine house sitting amid rugged natural beauty, the sun glinting on the water just so. It’s there in opening track ‘Glada’, a song about the re-birth of feeling and being worthy of love (who else but Samuel T Herring could write a line as crushingly devastating as “Do I deserve the sea again?”). And it’s there in album closer ‘Hit The Coast’, where a fresh start, and knowing that better things await, soothe the pain of packing up your car and leaving for good. “I’m flying and free” Herring sings over keyboardist and programmer Gerrit Welmers’ gentle, blissful synths. “And I’m not crying”.
In between, As Long As You Are looks to the past as well as the future, and confronts old ghosts and new hope. Above all, it’s a record full of searing honesty, redemption, and what Herring refers to as “letting go”. That sense of optimism and longing is fuelled by a newfound happiness and inner peace; he now spends a lot of his time with his new partner in her native Sweden. And this feeling of contentment has allowed old wounds to heal, bringing various painful chapters to a close. “Pulling from my past is a form of therapy,” he says, “And being happy for the first time in a long time made me feel freer to explore myself and accept certain truths.”
So we get the brutally frank ‘I Knew You’ and ‘City’s Face’, both of which rake over the effects of toxic relationships, while ‘Plastic Beach’, a song that, musically, perfectly encapsulates the band’s soaring euphoria and uninhibited joyfulness, confronts body dysmorphia and accepting both the way we look, and love from those who find us beautiful.
Then there’s ‘For Sure’, the lead single and a song that harks back to Singles’ easy charm (it was formed from an idea left over from that album’s era, and is powered by the same guitar tone Welmers used on ‘A Dream Of You And Me’ and ‘Fall From Grace’). Lyrically, it finds Herring at his most buoyant – “When you say ‘us’ / You make me trust” he croons – but also at his most affecting. “I will never keep you from an open door” is as powerful a line about the strength of love coming from a place of support and mutual respect as you’ll find anywhere.
Throughout, Herring’s delivery matches the subject matter; it’s a touch more restrained than before, and a little warmer. Wise too. As always, it sits neatly in the frame the band
create, an effortless new wave synth-pop full of bright melodies and heavenly choruses. Yet taking their time over both writing and recording allowed the band to “push the edges of what we do” according to bassist William Cashion; the ballads are a beat slower and more dramatic, while the upbeat tracks have a little more spark and urgency.
“Sonically, there is more going on,” says Welmers. “Everyone spent more time with sounds on this record, and we were able to really think about adding things, a lot of guitar and little synth sounds in the background. We all contributed to that.” The result is a fuller, denser sound, with a rich tapestry of layers; “Our best sounding record ever,” says Herring.
In part, this is due to the band taking on official production duties for the first time (As Long As You Are was co-produced with engineer Steve Wright at his Wrightway Studios in Baltimore). But it’s also down to the other major change for Future Islands – the official inclusion of drummer Mike Lowry as a fully-fledged member and songwriter. “There’s an immediacy to writing with a drummer,” says Cashion. “More energy.”
For Lowry, As Long As You Are represented “the most ideal recording situation I’ve ever been a part of. Everyone was really supportive of everyone else’s ideas, and allowing ourselves space and time opened a channel for everyone to express their truth and just work on the art. I felt like I’d really become part of something.”
That “something” is a very special band, one now at ease with the critical and commercial success they worked so hard to achieve. As Long As You Are cements Herring’s reputation as one of modern music’s most compelling, clever lyricists, a poet on par with those, such as Theodore Roethke, who’ve so inspired and influenced him. And it posits Future Islands as one of the great bands, one that has matured in the spotlight and sound comfortable just being themselves. After all, that’s what’s got them this far.
“As an artist, you always have fears that you’re just gonna get old and then people won’t care,” says Herring, “but this is what we’re supposed to sound like and, to us, it’s the best we’ve ever sounded. As Long As You Are is another step in defining who Future Islands is, and that’s really important.”