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Future Islands Side-Project The Snails Makes Playfulness Cool Again on 'Songs From the Shoebox'

Music ReviewWeston PaganoComment

Though formed as early as 2008, Future Islands side project The Snails had graced us with little more than 2013’s killer Worth The Wait EP before their full-length debut dropped ahead of schedule this week. (Even if you had never heard of them until recently, you may be familiar with the mollusk motif from the adorable smiling snails adorning the envelopes from past ticket giveaways.) Initially tracked back in 2013, Songs from the Shoebox was slowly overdubbed and mixed over the years in between their main band’s tours since.

This slimy supergroup brings members of Future Islands, Lower Dens, Wume, Small Sur, Wing Dam, Nuclear Power Pants, and Showbiz all together within one shell, and is led largely by the FI duo as Snailliam (William Cashion)’s signature rumbling bass grooves lend pulse and platform to Sammy Snail (Samuel Herring)’s delightfully raucous howls as per usual.

For the most, Herring tends to leave his dripping, guttural growls behind for a full showcase of his upper registers with uplifting roars of positivity on “The Tight Side of Life” and beyond, and his ability to shift between brooding poignance to unabashed fun deftly displays the emotional and modal versatility of a man who also doubles as an occasional rapper.

Opening with the sound of a balloon blowing up, Songs from the Shoebox has all the playfulness of the class projects we built in those same containers as we first learned to appreciate the fun of art all those years ago. The energetic collaboration brings the best side projects have to offer with that added bit of flair such freedom allows, as the Baltimore post-punk rockers swap their sultry synth for sweet, sweet sax.

Appropriately decreeing “We’re gonna take it slow / Real slow / Real slow” in the first track, they then transition into the whimsical "Barnacle on a Surfboard (Barnacle Boogie)" that ends with impressively committed snail sound effects, before "Shoebox" opens up cheerfully with the curious “It's a brand new day / Bring me my socks / I want to show you how I play.”

It’s the sign of a truly great musician when each and every song they put forth is of undeniable quality, no matter how obscure it may be (give Future Islands’s loose collection of non-album deep cuts a visit sometime if you haven’t already, and you’ll discover lesser known tunes that pack more punch than many indie staples’ peak singles), and even at their most casual they prove to make no exception, never skimping on earnest heart and movability no matter how silly the vessel for that drive may be.

Ending with the previously-released highlight "Snails Christmas (I Want a New Shell)" we find ourselves with an offering infinitely better than the half-assed holiday repeat covers we’re normally subjected to each winter, however strange it may sound in mid February. It’s also, notably, the first time the words “caviar” and “Roomba” have ever been sung in the same sentence, at least to my knowledge.

For a man usually known for physically beating himself as he figuratively (and through miming, literally) tears his heart out onstage, it’s especially nice that Herring of all people can remind us to sometimes take a step back and just enjoy the music.

Check out where The Snails will be leaving trails during their tour:

  • 3/4 - Philadelphia, PA @ Kungfu Necktie
  • 3/5 - Burlington, VA @ Signal Kitchen
  • 3/6 - Portland, ME @ Space
  • 3/8 - Providence, RI @ AS220
  • 3/9 - Brooklyn, NY @ Baby's All Right
  • 3/10 - New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
  • 3/11 - Washington, DC @ Comet Pizza and Ping Pong
  • 3/12 - Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
  • 3/13 - Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight
  • 3/15 - Athens, GA @ Caledonia Lounge
  • 3/16 - Charleston, SC @ Tin Roof
  • 3/17 - Wilmington, NC @ Reggie's 42nd Street Tavern
  • 3/18 - Raleigh, NC @ Kings
  • 3/19 - Baltimore, MD @ The Ottobar