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Baltimore beats with a throbbing intensity

future islands Singles (4AD)

AT a time when masculinity in pop is undergoing a fundamental genetic re-structuring, courtesy of a virus of anodyne TV talent shows, the arrival of a Baltimore chest-beating belter, with his heart on his sleeve, is a welcome development.

Future Islands have done their growing up in public. With three albums to their credit, before signing to 4AD for this 10-track selection, they've honed their skills on the live circuit.

Their mix of sonic synth-pop familiarity and potentially dangerous vocal passion comes as a welcome antidote to the schlock-saturated fodder that's been clogging the arteries of mainstream radio.

Initial comparisons to a Roland Gift-lead Fine Young Cannibals (on the fizzing metronomic Spirit) are quickly dismissed as it becomes clear that singer Samuel T Herring might have more in common with the hardcore punk spirit of Henry Rollins.

Intensity is Future Islands' stock in trade. "Pushing to the limits," is how Herring describes it.

Big on melody, uncluttered synth riffs and danceable beats, Future Islands leave plenty of space for Herring's booming baritone which can veer from touching tenderness to a Middle-Earth death metal growl in an instant. Check the looping Fall From Grace for proof.

Performing the sterling Seasons (Waiting On You) on Letterman, the human-coiled spring that is Herring resembles an On The Waterfront-era Marlon Brando trying to master a few northern soul moves after a few pints.

It's unnerving seeing a big-shouldered bloke physically wrestling with angst. Last time we saw something as visceral as this was probably Ian Curtis.


It's unlikely that things will end as badly for Herring, who, if he's not careful, could become a major star.

Singles is absolutely choc-a-bloc with singalong hooks and straight-ahead beats. From Doves to Like The Moon, the 80s never actually sounded this good.

The album's sensitive core is best illustrated by the charging Zen-like A Dream of You and Me on which Herring, admitting the dream is over, sings, "I asked myself for peace/and found a piece of me".

Overall, quite brilliant.