Review Summary: Letters of hope and love etched along the intricacies of a lace doily.
Residing in a marbled hall with hanging plants and a window overlooking a dark and untamed sea, Samuel Herring etches a love letter along the intricacies of a lace doily. He is entirely enamoured by the prose of life, turning the common plights of the lovelorn into grand, gilded statements - that much is obvious in the way his voice bellows and falters in equal measure, a performance meant for the sun-baked, ancient amphitheatres. But you'll also see him, dressed to the sevens rather than the nines, snaking around the dance-floor and swivelling at the heel, exuding a wistful and wounded sort of machismo.
It might seem like a shtick – his late show wide-eyed growls, shirt tugs, and crab/dad dances have confounded as many as they've captivated - but The Far Field goes a long way in showing that this Future Islands formula is a floor rather a ceiling. Spend some time with any one of their records and you'll recognise the pick bass, the synth pad washouts and the middling drumbeats – that's the floor. But building on top of it is where they thrive, on new-wave balladry and its inherent overwrought expression. This go around, they achieve a whole new level of sumptuous, poetic melodrama. They meet the potential that's been peeking since the very beginning, and in a way that could turn any stony-hearted gargoyle towards the rosy haze of love.
In tackling the sub-topics of love (ie. that which is unrequited, that which is held at distance, that which has waned) as so many are wont to do, The Far Field holds little in the way of stark revelation – what's important is that it presents itself as though it does. “And what's a song without you, when every song I write is about
you?” Herring bleeds on lead single 'Ran'. It's a charming line on its own, but there's a suggestion in the proceeding “On these roads / out of love / so it goes” that the 'you' in question is a placeholder for any relationship, hindered by the nomadic nature of a touring band. It's a lyrically simple track, but it's fortified by the crescendo it's wrapped up in, escalating with skittering hi-hats and desperate high notes.
Elsewhere on The Far Field, the lyrics match up to the boldness of each storied peak. Opener 'Aladdin' might prove to be one of the band's greatest efforts yet, showcasing expressive lines through a flow that is virile with intent. Herring speaks of honey and melon-coloured fields, low streams, a cannibal moon and “animals breathing life into June”, the drums steadily grow more urgent and the strings that are introduced provide a little extra majesty, if it were even needed. The track closes on its apex, the indomitable cry of “Our love is real! It's a hand, it's a hold, it's a shield
!”, and whether it's a line held aloft in celebration or one to plead, the haughty delivery lends again a sense of leather-bound history penned by the ancients.
These moments of vocal nectar characterise the album, heat-seekers that don't all need singling out because the discerning listener will know them. Beyond them, though, The Far Field is rich with variations on Future Islands' methods. You've 'North Star', a journey from fear to determination within a spry and tropical melody, wholesome without being as hokey as 'Sun in the Morning' from their previous album. 'Shadows' invites Debbie Harry of all people as a guest vocalist, and hers acts as the perfect counterpart to Herring's voice, utilising the same acrobatics and devotion to poetic imagery. 'Through The Roses' is an emotional thank-you letter from Sam to his audience, citing their admiration of him as having numbed his straying thoughts of suicide. “I'm no stronger than you and I'm scared”, he admits, but lands on the motivational mantra of “We can pull through, together”.
And, ultimately, that's what this feels like. The Far Field, a vast expanse laden with fear and trepidation. But we, by Herring's side, are the venturers of odyssey, patrons of poetry, seeking to draw out all of the honey and the dew and the splendour from an uncertain landscape – so that we may rest awhile in that marbled hall with the hanging plants, and gaze upon the lashing waves.