Rock Roundup

Why I Love Future Islands

They’re at Turner Hall this Sunday, and definitely worth a try.

By - Aug 4th, 2014 01:02 pm
Future Islands. Photo by Rich Fury from facebook.

Future Islands. Photo by Rich Fury from facebook.

Week’s Top Show: Future Islands, Turner Hall Ballroom, Sunday, August 10

If you would be so kind, please take four minutes of your life to absorb this (pretty suitable for work) segment from the March 3, 2014 broadcast of The Late Show With David Letterman:

I’m on the record as a critic who became a fan of Future Islands a mere four albums into its career. I could argue that the delay is the band’s own fault because it moved from North Carolina to Baltimore, but I won’t.

I have thus also become an occasional keyboard-warrior defender of the band and especially of its frontman, Samuel T. Herring, the latter often criticized online for having male-pattern baldness, love handles and a voice that occasionally spills over into territory usually occupied by the Cookie Monster and Tom Waits.

On the basis of the above video alone, those criticisms are entirely merited. Yet they can be dispatched easily on the grounds that pop music has, for decades, made studs and goddesses of dorks (Gene Vincent, Pete Townshend, Nick Cave) and dorkettes (Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Gwen Stefani).

The complaint about vocals can be disintegrated with a variety of paired proper nouns—Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello—who have reached first-rate expressive heights with theoretically and technically third-rate voices.

Herring is basically, despite his TV-infamous explosions of oddity, a crooner who unfurls a lot of feelings within a limited range.

And then there is Singles, the previously mentioned fourth Future Islands album, which might eventually deserve a place alongside the most intense works of New Order, Pet Shop Boys and the Cure as a classic of New Wave-influenced music that works both on the dance floor and through headphones.

Furthermore, anyone who’s tried to watch Letterman in the last few years know that he shows genuine enthusiasm about as often as he emits genuine laughter. We need more bands that can make believers of skeptics.

This is the official version of “Seasons (Waiting on You)”:


Tuesday, August 5: Roadside Graves with Christopher Porterfield at Cactus Club

No One Will Know Where You’ve Been, What Happened to Him Could Happen to You, You Won’t Be Happy With Me: those are three Roadside Graves EP and LP titles, and they almost don’t need further elucidation to convey the gist of what the New Jersey collective’s material.

RG carries on the darker side of Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown with a joyful grimness that, if you’ve ever woken before dawn to tend to animals and crops, will hit you right below the heart — which will probably already be weakened by Field Report frontman Christopher Porterfield’s opening set, which is likely to be equally emotive.

You might be happy, in a weird way, with this:


Wednesday, August 6: PHOX at Turner Hall Ballroom

Did you know that acclaimed science-fiction writer Barry B. Longyear wrote a cycle of “Circus World” novels based around the idea of a distant planet whose population came entirely from a circus spacecraft that had crashed? One of those books was called City of Baraboo.

Longyear did not predict that the Wisconsin city would, in 2014, generate the debut full-length of PHOX, whose music is appropriate for adult-contemporary circuses run by David Lynch (or, in his less quirky moods, Wes Anderson). Plus, frontwoman Monica Martin has that je ne sais quoi known as “presence.”

A science-fiction society with songs like this would be more utopian than dystopian:


Friday, August 8: Body Futures at Cactus Club

If I do not often write about Milwaukee bands, it’s because my tendency toward the poles of the rhapsodic and the sardonic makes me overpraise or atomize a band simply because it’s local. It’s like romantic love or post-romantic hate: a man can get too close to the subject to have a clear view of it (her/him).

However, Brand New Silhouettes, the introductory long-player from MKE’s own Body Futures, effectively fans even a bitter old bastard’s embers of hope for indie rock that isn’t too clever for its own (or anyone else’s) good. It tickles an active brain’s intelligence and its pleasure principle. As an added bonus, it features autoharp.

Here’s a live cut:


Monday, August 11: Boris at Turner Hall Ballroom

To American eyes, a great deal of Japanese culture that makes it to America is painfully cute (the anime series Sailor Moon) or unbelievably sinister (a comic book known as The Rapeman). The band Boris is not at all cute and, despite its penchant for grungy noise, not all that sinister.

Solidified in the mid-1990s in Tokyo, it moved with uncommon swiftness from Melvins-style muck music to other sounds, including the psychedelic undertow of the four-part 2000 suite Flood and the career overview, via new songs, of its latest album, this year’s Noise.

Expect nothing from this but accessible ferocity and you’ll be fine:

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