People Who Aren’t There Anymore
The title of the seventh album from Baltimore quartet Future Islands is loaded with different meanings. A surface-level listen of these 12 songs indicates the follow-up to 2020’s As Long As You Are suggests loss, grief, separation: people who aren’t there anymore. All these themes are indeed present, captured in the album’s turbulent gestation period. Vocalist Samuel Herring and bassist William Cashion respectively moved cross-continent and cross- country after relationships dissolved, set to the backdrop of a pandemic that had grounded any plans for touring their newest record before they could even be hatched.
With the addition of drummer Michael Lowry—whom, along with keyboardist Gerrit Welmers, remained in Baltimore amid all this upheaval—the band were finding their feet in earnest, only to find it suddenly ripped away, finding themselves unable to use live music as an outlet for the first time since forming in 2006. So they did what any band in that position would do, and before they’d played a single show in support of its predecessor, they’d already started work on the follow-up. The announcement of People Who Aren’t There Anymore arrived mere weeks after they’d wrapped up that long-delayed touring schedule; they’ve had this one cooking for a while, to the extent that the first released song from these sessions—the resolute and appropriately bruised ‘Peach’—appeared not even a year after their previous record. They were eager to get back to it, and it shows.
Opener ‘King of Sweden’ is an open-hearted love song brutally recontextualised by Herring’s later split, allowing the record to begin on a bright and hopeful note that rings a little more melancholic when taken in as part of the whole experience. That’s where the album title comes back into focus – these are songs as time capsules. The people they’re for, about—they no longer exist, three years removed from the events that inspired much of the lyrical content. They’re not there anymore. Sometimes that absence is more permanent—as Herring toasts to old friends lost to overdose and suicide on the insular ‘Give Me The Ghost Back’—and sometimes it’s used as a framing for the linear nature of the passing seasons and how it can affect us, an important lyrical theme on the record (though they did write a song about that once).
Led by Herring’s distinctive voice and lyrical approach, songs like ‘The Tower’ and the propulsive ‘Iris’ soar as high as the best of the back catalogue. The latter is arguably the highlight of the record’s transcendent back half, a reflection on struggling to break familiar (and familial) habits, whose drum groove grew out of Lowry’s obscure tastes and crate-digging, inspired by Nigerien electronic artist Mamman Sani’s 1978 album that got its moment in the spotlight 35 years later. Trying new things and taking new approaches has been a cornerstone of the band’s creative process since they broke big a decade ago with Singles. Reacting to that fame required a course correction, until through no fault of their own, they found themselves adrift, six albums and 14 years in. That they had a full-on cultural moment is exciting enough in itself; their latest album may herald another one. How many bands get to say that, especially ones who got their start on well-respected smaller labels and stuck the landing?
These songs practically leap out at the listener, in ways much more in keeping with the quartet’s vaunted live shows—recent single ‘Say Goodbye’ in particular sounds massive and will still outgrow those studio confines in a live setting. Every band has that one album where they do their utmost to bridge the gap between studio snapshots and their established live presence, and this is that album for Future Islands, made at a time when they couldn’t do the real thing; an experience with a strong start that gets better as it goes on. It’s very much a Future Islands record in that it’s a reaction to the previous one even in its title. A band that chooses to refine itself as it goes on, reliable but rarely predictable. Circumstances dictated they needed to switch up how they worked once again; in response, they threw themselves into the creation of this album, and the results are self-evident.
It may be steeped in personal struggle, the lyrical perspective weighed down by old haunts and fresh wounds, written in tribute to old faces and old selves, but their latest offering is forward-facing even at its most reflective, celebrating new beginnings. “Can’t take away what you gave me, ‘cause in a real way you saved me”, Herring sings on ‘Corner Of My Eye’, finding closure and taking it with him into the present moment. Reflect, adapt, move on; and what exactly are Future Islands moving on to? It remains to be seen, but the resurgent, resplendent People Who Aren’t There Anymore confirms their future is incredibly bright.
Pre-order People Who Aren’t There Any More by Future Islands HERE
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