On paper, Future Islands side project the Snails might not seem like much of a departure from the band that spawned it, an eccentric Baltimore synth-pop trio that rocketed to viral fame in 2014 on the strength of a riveting Letterman performance. But though the Snails feature William Cashion and Samuel Herring — Future Islands' steady-handed bassist and famously idiosyncratic frontman, respectively — there's a very different spirit at work on their new self-released debut LP.
Herring's penchant for the occasional demonic growl aside, Future Islands' most recent album, Singles, was a mostly refined affair. By contrast, Songs From the Shoebox, which follows an equally under-the-radar 2013 EP, has a raw, garage-y feel that sometimes manifests itself as punk fury (as on driving two-minute anthem "Flames") and other times as scruffy indie-pop whimsy (see "Barnacle on a Surfboard," where Herring sings of the titular arthropod who "wants to find a place he can grab a smoothie").
Unsurprisingly, Herring's elastic belt is the main attraction. Instead of soaring over the keys of Future Islands' Gerrit Welmers, here it harmonizes and interweaves with the playful sax leads of an unnamed band member (all take silly pseudonyms such as Sandy Snailbelow and Snailbraham, and wear fantastical snail-eye headpieces onstage), making for a charmingly offbeat blend. If the performances on Songs From the Shoebox sometimes feel like first takes, the songs themselves are unusually sturdy and memorable. "Streets Walkin'," with its wiry, almost-Fugazi-ish punk-funk feel, builds to a clenched-fist refrain, while "Shoebox" sounds like Future Islands gone Sixties pop. For fans of Herring and Cashion's other band, this album is an easy sell; what's surprising is that it's so easily recommended to pretty much everyone else.