Like a shot from the past and a nod to the future all in one, Seasons (Waiting on You), the opening song from Future Islands fourth LP, is a case study in how to write pop.
It's got a beat. You can dance to it. It goes off like a rocket in the chorus, and doesn't overstay it's welcome. Coupled with simple lyrics, Seasons… manages a fine balance between cheesy and classic pop, while Samuel Herring’s distinctive vocals help keep it fresh.
Seasons change /
And I tried hard just to soften you /
And seasons change /
And I've grown tired of trying to change for you
Other singers may treat these couplets without the heart beating earnest of Herring, and it wouldn't work. At its heart, this is the key to the success of previous Arcade Fire instant classics, We Used To Wait and Afterlife. Win Butler plays the lyrics with a straight bat, which allows us to bypass their mundanity; We Used To Wait is literally a song about the mail.
As it breaks, the summer will wake /
But the winter will wash what is left of the taste /
As it breaks, the summer will warm /
But the winter will crave what is gone /
Will crave what has all gone away
William Cashion on bass manages to construct a neat driving hook, reminiscent of cleaner version of the Magic Numbers Take A Chance, or even the Bobby Fuller Four's (actual classic) Let Her Dance. Crucially, Future Islands are confident enough to let the bass take the lead throughout, while allowing Gerrit Welmers's keys to set the tone. The relatively stripped back effect this gives to the verses means that the "fuck yeah" inducing chorus punches above its four-to-the-floor material.
It's an effective technique, and one that Miley Cyrus attempted to employ in her fairly execrable Wrecking Ball, and subsequently inverted by Haim to good effect in their cover of the same song. The reason it falls down for Cyrus is due in no small part to the technically proficient but emotionally devoid singing throughout the rest of the song, and is further hampered by the lack of variation. Where Wrecking Ball relies on orchestral and vocal backing to sell Cyrus as anything more than an autotuned robot, Seasons… lets Herring's vocals do all the emotional legwork.
Future Islands almost pick up where Chairlift left off in early 2012’s I Belong In Your Arms (and, yes, that's the Japanese version), creating a slice of pure pop that succeeds because of its slight idiosyncrasies. It's an instant classic, if only for having helped bring the below gif into the world.