Tiny Desk

Future Islands

Download Audio

Future Islands: Tiny Desk Concert

Future Islands' members showed up with the biggest amplifier we've ever squeezed behind Bob Boilen's desk. Then, because they're such nice guys, they tried to keep it down. Tamping down the levels didn't dampen their intensity, though, and by the third song, the band and the crowd were struggling to keep it office-appropriate.

The band's goal, of course, was to make us break (it) down. "I want you to cry," said Sam Herring, who sings and writes all the lyrics. "I want you to feel the way I feel." He said that, in songs like "On the Water," he's using the fewest words possible to communicate most directly. Forget miscommunication, crossed signals, all that mess. "I want to crush," he says.

In case that sounds kind of cruel, Herring reminded us that crying is a good thing. Therapists tell some people to do it more often. What Future Islands is really going for, with the mordant wit in the lyrics, the melodramatic chord progressions and Herring's yowling, scratchy voice, is catharsis. And catharsis can happen in your head and in your heart.

"Some people hear the music and they want to dance. They don't hear the words. And some people hear the words, but they don't understand the other side of it," Herring said. "Those people come together and they share that space. They get the same thing out of it in the end, hopefully."

Future Islands came to our office and played some sad songs. The band did the aforementioned weeper "On the Water," as well as "The Ink Well," a song about saying goodbye to someone. Then they commanded us to move: Just before launching into "Walking Through That Door," a song about missing your hometown, Herring said, "Y'all can dance if you want to."

Set List
  • "On The Water"
  • "The Ink Well"
  • "Walking Through That Door"

Filmed and edited by Michael Katzif; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Erin Schwartz

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Youth Lagoon Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Youth Lagoon

Trevor Powers' new songs are expansive and self-assured, a transition reflected in this performance.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Wild Reeds Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Wild Reeds

Great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special.

Tiny Desk Concert with Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

At the Tiny Desk, Rateliff's body-shaking Southern-style soul takes on a more laid-back sound.

Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Rahim AlHaj

The oud player's wordless music tells powerful stories about life's blessedness and fragility.

Tiny Desk Concert with Aurora Hadas /NPR hide caption

toggle caption Hadas /NPR

Tiny Desk


At 19 and on the cusp of her first album, the Norwegian singer performs with a sense of discovery.

Tiny Desk Concert with My Bubba Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

My Bubba

My Bubba is a duo of women whose quirky, delicate, sweetly sung folk songs are a delight.

Tiny Desk Concert with Chris and Morgane Stapleton Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Chris Stapleton

With his wife Morgane, the country singer-songwriter sings patient, detailed songs of devotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Diane Coffee. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Diane Coffee

Conjuring David Bowie, Diane Coffee's Shaun Fleming swaggered and shimmied behind the Tiny Desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Suffers NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Suffers

The 10-piece band can barely fit all its horns, guitars, percussion and energy behind one desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with Beauty Pill Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Beauty Pill

In Beauty Pill, life whirs with plunderphonic glee and riffs are funky from the inside out.

Back To Top

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor