Incoming: The nervous energy and tragic ambitions of Future Islands

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Though Future Islands only recently released its debut for Chicago’s Thrill Jockey, the band may already be on a self-destructive course. The voice of singer Samuel Herring already seems on the verge of giving out. If not quite a growl, it appears to be caught in a permanent strain, scraping over the retro-futurism of the act’s icy snyth-pop melodies.

“I don’t consider myself a singer,” said Herring from the band’s base in Baltimore. “I consider myself a performer who sings. I try to channel the energy and passion and the pain of the songs when they were first written.That comes out through my voice, but I probably shouldn’t sing the way I do. I’m going to ruin my voice. When I sing by myself, my voice is busted, but when in front of a group it comes out of me.”


The East Coast three-piece has a brief Los Angeles stay this week, appearing Thursday on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” and at Amoeba Music in Hollywood and Saturday night at downtown club the Smell. The nine songs of the band’s recently released “In Evening Air” flirt with a Brian Eno ambiance, a New Order bounce and a post-punk aggression.

Though heavy on synthesizer and computers, Future Islands has a lo-fi soul. Whether the act is toying with the skittering textures of “Long Flight” or the nearly Caribbean shading of “Tin Man,” Future Islands wields a keyboard and laptop with a garage rock hustle.

“The synth stuff was our punk rock,” Herring said. “Our first band wasn’t a band. It was a performance art project. I was really into studying conceptual art, but my school had nothing for that. It was very technical. The band would talk about how we treat our pop icons and a rock stars, but make a joke of it with heavy social commentary. That was influenced mainly by Kraftwerk.”

Herring first played with digital orchestrator J Gerrit Welmers and bassist William Cashion while studying art at East Carolina University. Future Islands became a more serious project after Herring led a relocation effort to Baltimore after graduation, and the act gradually fell in with electronic landscaper Dan Deacon. Influential German electronic outfit Kraftwerk, however, remained the Future Islands’ jumping-off point, an act Herring was only familiar with through Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.”

“When I met William, I had listened to hip-hop and jazz,” Herring said. “William was into early-‘90s rave music and ‘80s jams. We came from different spectrums, but we hit on the same level on Kraftwerk. They’re one of the most important elements in creating hip-hop.”

If a sense of nervous panic permeates the songs of “In Evening Air,” Herring notes they were “rambled off” while he was going through a difficult break-up. “I feel bad for those guys,” Herring said. “I write such terribly emotional, sad, tragic songs. Gerrit works so hard on these songs, and I just weep over them.”


The future, however, looks brighter -- sort of.

“A few months ago we wrote our first happy song in two years. It had a great upward feeling. That was exciting. The songs have always had a sad undertone. That’s just me wanting to be a tragic figure.”

-- Todd Martens

Future Islands at Amoeba, 6400 Sunset Blvd., June 24 at 7 p.m. Free. Saturday the band appears at the Smell, 247 S. Main St. Tickets are $5.

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