As much as Sam Herring’s distinctive vocal croons are a trademark of Future Islands’ cinematic storytelling, so too is the sweeping synths of Gerrit Welmers. And straight from the off, the distinctive partnership, backed by William Cashion and Michael Lowry on bass and drums respectively, are back on album number seven – People Who Aren’t There Anymore.
Here is excitement, devastation, understanding, and the dawn’s rays of redemption in 44 minutes. Divorce, separation, cross-country and cross-continental moves – all provide themes to explore on this record.
Future Islands finished their last album, As Long As You Are, just as the world shut down in 2020. Since 2006, they’d been tireless in their touring, doing so much healing, living, and grieving onstage, until abruptly, there was nowhere to go, no more stages to contain their frontman’s kinetic force. Herring and Cashion found themselves both pinned beneath upending breakups, with Herring unhappily returning to the room he rented in a former Baltimore punk house after spending years in Sweden with a partner, and Cashion heading west to Los Angeles after a divorce.
Opener, King of Sweden, has Herring yearning “You are all I need / nothing said could change a thing” while the plaintive chimes and disco beat of The Tower recognise the end of a phase in life; grief and acceptance at once.
Deep In The Night provides the counterview, wondering how one can exist without that person who is a natural connection.
And of course, it’s all done through the lush mix of analogue keys and Herring’s ability to conjure vivid pictures of heartache, reflection and longing. On The Fight, he is found wondering ‘Can I do it alone? / Now I’m back in my cell / back in my shell…’ before self-affirming ‘I’m backing myself’. For this is what Future Islands do; they break your heart, put a musical arm around your shoulder and lift you back to your feet.
Intensity is a core feature of Future Islands sound and across this record, like most of their discography, they rarely let up. Which can at times feel overwhelming. But this is not a band for ebbs and flows. You are straight in with their tidal energy; waves of drama flowing directly into your veins.
People Who Aren’t There Anymore feels like their most open work to date. While across its tracks, the poetic approach to their lyrics remains, it doesn’t take a lot to draw the lines between metaphor and lived experience, which again is made accessible by the emotive force of Herring’s performances.