As Public Enemy once said, don’t believe the hype!
That was 1988 however, and a lot has changed since then. Hype has become less what happens to unknown acts deserving of mainstream success, and more the deciding factor in who is successful. In the 21st Century the ease of accessing music has made us all desperate to be the first one there, the one who can say “I saw them before they became famous”, or if you’re being more accurate, “I was there before you heard of them and they got over inflated egos and became the worthless husk of a creative unit you see in front of you now.”
We are, if you will, ripe for hype! Bands are now famous before they’ve even released an album. Gone are the days where you suddenly discover fame in your late thirties on your 5th or 6th album, well unless you are Elbow or The National anyway. Whilst hype was once the bastion of the mainstream, increasingly it’s infiltrating alternative music.
My first memory of hype as we know it now was probably The Strokes; a whirlwind of hysteria brewing, as much due to the utter tedium of Starsailor and Toploader as anything these five, rich and handsomely grungy New Yorkers were up to. The Modern Age EP was a breath of fresh air, the debut album, Is This It? a triumph. But was it really the start of a revolution? More than anything it was a very good, but ultimately largely unoriginal band, making the best album they had ever make, and the world went mental for it!
Is This it? signaled the birth of the 21st Century Indie hype-machine. Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys and now Future Islands have all passed through it, some come out of the other end and remain triumphant fixtures on the alternative scene, others drift into obscurity. Hype is a good start but it can’t make Hard-Fi into Blur, The Bravery into The Killers, or make anyone still care about The Kooks. It wont make a dull band anymore interesting, even if it does make them more successful.
Future Islands consist of Gerrit Welmers (Keys/Programming), William Cashion on all things strings, and singer and lyricist Samuel T. Herring. They also bring a drummer along when they are on tour, currently Michael Lowry.
Synth pop. Samuel is a deadly serious sounding singer, and sounds like he means every syllable that he enunciates. Musically there is a lot of 80’s synth that recalls A-Ha and there are enough hooks to make Pete Waterman jealous.
The initial line up of the band met at East Carolina University in Greenville. The university was also attended by, amongst others, Sandra Bullock, Scream & Dawson Creek creator Kevin Williams and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
Future Islands formed in 2006, following the demise of their original band Art-Lord & The Self-Portraits (rumours suggest it might be because that is the worst band name I’ve ever heard). Their debut album Wave Like Home was recorded at home and released, via UK label Upset The Rhythm in the Summer of 2008. Next, they re-located to Baltimore, signed to Chicago based label, Thrill Jockey and produced a second album, In Evening Air. A third album On The Water was recorded back in Carolina and in 2011 came out again on Thrill Jockey. Things really exploded for the band earlier this year, when they announced they had signed with Beggars Group label, 4AD. Their fourth studio album Singles came out in March this year, the same month they made their much talked about network television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Catchy pop songs don’t come much catchier or poppier. They are 80’s New Wave songs, put through a post-punk filter. Pitchfork summed up his lyrical style perfectly as “the kind of thing that would tumble out of your mouth if you were told to write a love song right now in eight seconds”, so they’re a tad saccharine but also rather lovely in a dopey goofball way. Herring is also, by all accounts a very entertaining front-man as shown in the omnipresent Late Show video that smashed the internet square in the face and screamed look at this!
Because there’s nothing original here at all, and they sound a bit like Wham!. Ok so I’m being cruel they’are much better than Wham! but there’s something knowingly stadium about everything the band strive for. They almost seem quite contrived, like they decided that sounding like U2 was the least cool thing ever, and if there’s one thing that’s cool right now it’s being not cool at all. The first ever norm-core band if you will. They attempt to tred the line of credibility and which side they fall is really a matter of personal opinion, and it’s worth listening to for that very reason
Seasons is out not on 4AD records. Future Islands have tour dates around the UK and Europe between May & June, as well as shows in November.