On Future Islands’ seventh studio album, and fourth for label 4AD, charismatic frontman Sam Herring and his bandmates deliver a dozen new songs in just under forty-four minutes. It’s been four years since the North Carolina synthpop group’s well received sixth full-length, As Long As You Are, which was their first release to feature the addition of drummer Michael Lowry. Their new full-length, People Who Aren’t There Anymore, is like its predecessor in that it’s co-produced by the band’s members along with Steve Wright.
The pair of tracks that open People Who Aren’t There Anymore, “King of Sweden” and “The Tower”, are a bubbly duo that keep things upbeat and optimistic, drawing you in with Herring’s first-person lyrics that cleverly pair relatable slice of life anecdotes with charmingly poetic sentiments. The album’s first third is concluded with the gorgeous ballad “Deep in the Night”. With its memorable swelling chorus that has Herring’s voice soaring as he sings, “When you take my hand, I understand, where you end, and that’s where I began,” the song is a standout and an absolute winner. It should be noted that nowhere on People Who Aren’t There Anymore does Herring’s voice ever dive into one of his trademark growls. Instead, the singer maintains an admirable smoothness that never feels excessively cloying or croony. “Corner of My Eye” is another ballad that closes out the record’s first side and, with its dynamic flourishes, feels as if the band is taking a well-earned bow before an intermission.
A midtempo number titled “The Thief” opens side B. Here, Herring’s lyrics are comparatively cryptic as he analogizes a lost love to buried treasure and remembrances of “things left from a childhood wanting more.” The album’s final third opens with “Peach”, a song that opens with a bouncy bassline that sounds like it was inspired by New Order’s “Age of Consent”. Instead of bemoaning a failing relationship in which both parties aren’t willing to pull the plug, however, “Peach” finds its narrator utilizing big/small Alice in Wonderland imagery to tell the story of someone begging to be saved. “The Sickness”, the album’s penultimate track, is notable as it’s the only song on the album to feature a guitar solo, one that’s made memorable due to its raw jaggedness and squelch, making it stand out amidst the synthetic slickness of everything around it.
“The Garden Wheel” makes for an odd end to People Who Aren’t There Anymore, mostly because it’s a comparatively humdrum track in the sequence. Given everything that’s come before, the album’s last moments feel unnaturally abrupt. This minor complaint aside, Future Islands’ latest offering is a largely solid listening experience. Whether due to time or the stylistic vocal choices made by Herring, People Who Aren’t There Anymore’s best tracks are the ballads. For a band who have been at it for just under two decades, Future Islands prove they’ve still got a lot to offer.