After making an album with producer John Congleton that added extra layers to their sleek synth pop sound, Future Islands take the reins themselves on 2020's As Long As You Are and add even more texture, drama, and almost Baroque touches to the arrangements. On it the band take another step further from their trademark sound of nimble bass lines, gloomy synth washes, pulsing rhythms, and Samuel T. Herring's desperately cajoling vocals towards something grander and more epic. More often than in the past, they slow the tempos and amp up the atmosphere, which serves to thrust Herring's elastic singing and literate lyrics even more to the front and center. He revels in the opportunity; he's never sounded more subtle and aching, and his words stir deep feelings. On the icy "Glada" his voice is like a warm sun bringing comfort to a frozen heart, on "City's Face" he gives solace with a comforting croon, and the rest of the time he sings like there's no barrier between his soul and the microphone. To balance these stately tracks that give the album some real heartbreaking weight, there are a number of songs that adhere to the band's established template and keep it from being too gloomy or reserved. The gleaming "Waking" is probably the closest to classic Islands, with Herring's ripped-from-the-heart words and voice riding the music like a beatnik crowd surfer, while "For Sure" is a sprightly pop song with a soaring chorus, and "Plastic Beach" is the kind of rambling, melancholy, and lost-sounding track the Cure made during their peak. On these songs, the band and singer work together like a well-oiled machine working at its optimal pace. The ballads are more of a mixed bag. The songs that work do so with power and grace. Those that don't make it seem like the band are grasping just beyond their reach. The overwrought "Thrill" is too earnest both vocally and musically, while a couple other songs tilt a little too far into melodrama. It makes for an album that's an uneasy mix of a band that's fully in control of their sound, making some good choices as they expand, but also occasionally toppling over as they overreach. It's worth checking out for the songs that work -- the group certainly haven't lost their touch when it comes to uptempo gloomy synth pop -- and the less successful moments aren't enough to sink the album entirely.
As Long as You Are Review
by Tim Sendra