Future Islands' 2014 album, Singles, was the moment when it all came together for them, musically, commercially, artistically. It had a handful of amazing singles, an overall sound that was sophisticated while wracked with emotion, a Chris Coady production that sanded off any sharp edges without feeling overdone, and Samuel T. Herring's brilliant vocals taking it all over the top to greatness. The band took three years before releasing its next album, The Far Field, and while it lacks the immediacy and shock of Singles, it feels like the work of a band looking to take another giant leap forward. Working with producer John Congleton this time, they add an extra layer of polish and bring in even more horns and strings than they did on the already lush Singles. This deluxe backing gives Herring more cushion to surround his vocal exhortations and desperate pleading; maybe a little too much. At times, he seems a little suffocated by the pillowy arrangements and he loses some of the edge that helps balance the fluffy strings and synths. That being said, he's still a force to be reckoned with and the increased amount of crooning he does on the album really shows how much he keep growing with each new release. That imbalance of deep emotion and overly precise arrangements is problematic, though. Even though the record is filled with hooky, emotionally powerful songs, their impact is blunted by the slickness of the production. For every track like "Day Glow Fire," which hews closely to the near-perfect template set up on Singles, there are a few that add too much unnecessary stuff to the mix. Stuffy strings, fluffy clouds of echo, stacks of backing vocals, a Debbie Harry duet...they add up and detract from the things that make the band sound unique, like Herring's vocals and the driving synth pop sparseness that Singles really locked into. The Far Field isn't a failure or a misstep, since there are so many good songs and their basic sound is still so strong. It's a shame that the band and Congleton felt the need to pretty things up, to make them sound more sophisticated and domesticated. It means that despite Herring's bravura performance, the album feels like a watered-down and lesser version of Singles.
The Far Field Review
by Tim Sendra