Our Take: Future Islands Get Vivid & Deep on (Perhaps) a Career-Best Album, ‘People Who Aren’t There Anymore’

People Who Aren't There Anymore - Future Islands
People Who Aren't There Anymore - Future Islands

Beau's Take

10 Music Quality
9 Content Originality
9 Memorability
10 Lyricism
9 Sonic Diversity
10 Arranging
Future Islands are a band to grow with, a band to embrace both heartbreak and joy, dark and light, sometimes one right after another. It all comes to a head in the group’s beautiful, yearning and cathartic new LP ‘People Who Aren’t There Anymore,’ released last month on acclaimed indie label 4AD.
‘People Who Aren’t There Anymore’ – Future Islands

From the jump, it’s clear that Baltimore synth-pop legends Future Islands are entering new territory with the group’s latest LP, the phenomenal People Who Aren’t There Anymore (released January 26 via 4AD).

It starts, as lead singer Sam Herring has said, in the middle of his (since-ended) relationship with Swedish actress Julia Ragnarsson, and although Future Islands albums always explore vivid loss, heartbreak, love and cathartic understanding, rarely has it been this fully on display.

That’s certainly saying something, but Herring and bandmates William Cashion (bass, guitars, programming), Michael Lowry (drums) and Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming) haven’t quite pulled off an LP of this magnitude before.

People Who Aren't There Anymore - Future Islands
People Who Aren’t There Anymore – Future Islands

Herring and co. don’t shy away from trauma and the resulting fallout, and the finished product could be the best album yet from the long-running indie veterans.

In fact, the storytelling and lyrical richness calls to mind, say, Gang of Youths’ staggering 2022 album the angel of 8th ave. – the sonic comparisons aren’t quite the same, but Herring is in fine form across a stunning new LP.

This new era (overused as that term might be in the music world these days) was led off last fall by smashing first single “The Tower,” which in turn is propelled by Michael Lowry’s engine room-like precision and a rich, jaunty bass line.

Future Islands Make Triumphant Return with “The Tower” Off 7th Album 'People Who Aren’t There Anymore'


Herring knows that “everything grows stronger in the light,” but throughout the album, the narrative is tested repeatedly.

Every relationship has ebbs and flows, but Herring’s resolve seems stronger than ever as he sings of waiting on the other side, of sending messages in bottles across the ocean.

It’s this song in particular where this album’s production (helped along by producer Steve Wright) shines through – these songs are somehow richer and more vivid, with more depth, than past Future Islands records (a high bar to clear, no doubt).

Other singles, like “Deep In The Night” seem to snap the listener back to reality, and “Say Goodbye” absolutely serves the same function, as Atwood Magazine noted upon the single’s release earlier this winter.

It’s about love stretching across time zones, until suddenly, the track… isn’t. Knowing what we know now about Herring’s unfortunate break-up, the track is one of several on the album that read as deeply personal – it’s part of the band’s most lyrically deep LP to date.



In fact, the album as a whole quite nearly has a more coherent narrative than any other Future Islands LP, reflective, perhaps, of the fact that Herring has said the LP chronicles a relationship from the middle onwards, not the beginning.

Give Me The Ghost Back” sees Herring turn the mirror inward, examining how he had “to fight to wrest the reins back on my life” – the song takes on a lurid, neon-tinged, blurry quality.

Herring also reflects on an old friend’s overdose, and the demons within himself (and indeed, all of us). Mark it down as another advanced ode to the past that shows this band is so much more than just smash hit single “Seasons (Waiting on You).”

It stands in stark contrast to songs like the life-affirming “Peach,” released in 2021, and “King of Sweden,” which debuted on its own near the start of summer 2022. Those tracks in particular have taken on a different meaning in the years since.

Herring sings of trekking back and forth across the ocean in “King of Sweden,” noting that “I’m always flying, so I’m always crying.” He also makes note of a sense of another new beginning: “Feeling like I’m 15, wandering with the misfits” – it could be taken as a nod to the reliability of old favorites.

Or, to get even deeper, there’s the idea that some aspects of our personality are relatively set in stone – there are parts of people, it could be said, that serve as a through-line across your entire life, and some feelings never quite really change.

Of course, as the album title notes, there are also people who weave in and out of our lives. Some of those feelings might remain the same as one looks back on time spent together, unyielding and unchanging – even if they pass by in a brief twinge of memory.

Future Islands (left to right): Samuel T. Herring, Gerrit Welmers, William Cashion, Michael Lowry © Frank Hamilton
Future Islands (left to right): Samuel T. Herring, Gerrit Welmers, William Cashion, Michael Lowry © Frank Hamilton

It again harkens back to the idea that, yes, this is very likely the most deep and advanced Future Islands album to date – in the best way possible.

This idea is memorably chronicled in the sonically rich, heartbreaking “Corner of My Eye,” one of the strongest entries in the band’s catalog of more down-tempo tracks (songs like “Little Dreamer,” off the Baltimore band’s debut album well over a decade ago, also fit nicely in that chapter).

Never one to shy away from grief and memory, Herring’s voice cracks, floats and dips in anguished fashion above a deep bass line – yet another example of how the album’s production is elevated above other Future Islands LPs (which isn’t a slight on those albums, but a sign of growth, of taking a leap forward).

I once had a friend
And we had a home
Till they asked me to turn back
Sometimes life is just like that
And there, in the city
Overlooking the sea
I found peace, but can’t go back
Isn’t it so sad?

And on the palest moon, I still see you in the corner of my eye,” Herring says, reminiscing throughout the track on “another quiet night back in my old city.”

The memory forgetting, the pains, never-ending,” Herring desperately intones, but there’s that innate knowledge again: “In loss, you’re better off, move on. Can’t take away what you gave me, ‘cuz in a real way you saved me.”

The song is rather jaw-dropping in its scope, with an ache and a characteristic yearning that’s impossible to forget, particularly when the lead singer closes the track: “It’s perfect, so it’s done.”

The track might in fact be one of the band’s best ever: It’s raw, it dives deep, it soars and crashes back to Earth. And it somehow gets better with each listen.

It’s followed by “The Thief,” with a skittish beat powered yet again by Lowry – when one doesn’t how to move forward or indeed, what to do, Herring chronicles the temptation to (literally and figuratively) sit on one’s hands, racked by indecision and regret.

I never had a place to call my own
And slept so many nights out all alone
I spent so many hours slowly breaking in
And finally found someone who’d let me in
But if I said too much, please let me know
It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been told
I got this darkened tongue from this bitter cold
Needed a little light to follow home

Herring also nods to “Treasures now forbidden, buried deep in the drawer,” and closes the song with another kicker that won’t soon be forgotten: “When I saw your light, I know I was home, but I’m all alone now.”

“Iris” is another standout track that shows off the growth and maturity of Future Islands as a band: The backbeat has almost calypso-esque strut and feel, and a lovely, deep vocal performance from Herring.

The singer also examines the idea that sometimes, the baggage we carry with us from one relationship into the next, or the baggage we carry in our lives in general, is a curious idea: “If the seeds are rotten, are we the rotten fruit?”

Consider it another Future Islands track to be lived in and enjoyed repeatedly: The band’s latest LP is nothing if not emotionally and intellectually stimulating.

“The Fight,” with its rich and romantic sonic undertones, carries something deeper and more grief-stricken underneath its elegant, vibey, slow dance-ready surface, as Herring again grapples with the fallout, with being alone again.

Now I’m back on my own
Another winter in a shadow, in shadow
Can I do it alone?
Now I’m back in my cell
Back with myself
Waiting on the phone

Herring displays the resolve for which Future Islands, masters of the road, are perhaps best known – the mantra here, of continuing to fight, is inspiring, although Herring grapples with the fact that “this could be last one.”

Suffice to say, the fight continues anew, though.

Future Islands © Frank Hamilton
Future Islands © Frank Hamilton

The album has a quality to it not unlike jumping through chapters in a book, or perhaps skipping around different movie scenes – there’s a cinematic feel at times akin to that of, say, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  or (500) Days of Summer, both of which take unexpected twists and turns, far from a fairytale ending.

Take “Peach,” for example, which harkens back to summer 2021. At a recent New York City album listening event, Herring noted that no plans had solidified for an album yet at that time, so the song chronicles a distinct entry in time.

The track is soaring, cathartic and energetic, a fine entry among the band’s best – not unlike “Vireo’s Eye,” a 2010s Future Islands staple.

To round out the album, Future Islands deliver the finely crafted, warm “The Garden Wheel,” showcasing another, softer side of Herring’s vocal work atop a cruising bass line.

The song traces the birth and the growth of a relationship through nature, and Herring can’t help but look forwards as well as backwards in the rearview mirror at the same time.

I dream of the roads that we’d weave
In the winter
Through fields, all covered in stones
That would dance
When the night came calling
And the quarry of things
And the ring
That went laughing down there
Was it the first missing thing, that we’ll never see?
Until they find him

It’s another instantly memorable track in an album packed full of them. It seemingly hasn’t been an easy road for Herring & co. to get to this point – the narrative of People Who Aren’t There Anymore certainly speaks to that idea, but through heartbreak and loss comes growth.

Throughout their entire career, Future Islands have explored this idea – cliche though it might be, what doesn’t kill you indeed makes you stronger.

The people, moments and memories that shape us weave a vivid tapestry, one filled with knowledge gained and lessons learned.

Is it ever easy? No, certainly not. Does the past rear its head at an inopportune times? Without a doubt. The only way forward is through, and Future Islands understand this innately.

And as with every Future Islands LP, these are songs to carry you into another era of your life – it might be the band’s finest hour, and an upcoming tour promises performances like no other (Radio City Music Hall awaits on the band’s schedule, after all).

Are Herring & co. up to the task? Uncertain though the future might be, they’ll have plenty of people around them to lean on going forward.

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:: stream/purchase People Who Aren’t There Anymore here ::
:: connect with Future Islands here ::
Stream: “The Thief” – Future Islands

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The People Who Aren't There Anymore - Future Islands

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Future Islands Make Triumphant Return with “The Tower” Off 7th Album 'People Who Aren’t There Anymore'




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