Collarbones’ ‘Futurity’ Is Here To Soundtrack Your Next All-Consuming Crush
Collarbones return five years after their last album with their best work yet.
“This is about a pathological need to have a crush,” says Marcus Whale, describing Collarbones’ fourth album, Futurity. He pauses, then clarifies: “but then, also hope — romantic hope — and indulging in the gorgeousness of what is in store, while also not knowing.”
Julia Jacklin released Crushing earlier this year, but that’s not why Collarbones — the long-distance electro-pop duo comprised of Sydneysider Whale and Travis Cook, who lives in Adelaide — landed on something a little less direct for their title.
Five years in the making, Futurity doesn’t revolve around one particular crush, instead focusing on the sense of purpose contained within one — whether there’s a way to exist purely in a world of ridiculous excitement and anticipation, regardless of what comes next. Partially because Collarbones, for a while, weren’t sure what was next.
“After [2014 album Return], there was a feeling of not really knowing what we were writing about, or what we were interested in even,” Whale says.
“We’re now in the 12th year of Collarbones [and] I think it becomes quite difficult to know what, apart from the personnel, constitutes a project and what is the unifying factor in it. We’re still a long way away from each other, but the ideologies and aesthetics of early Collarbones are largely gone.”
Whatever remains, Futurity is their best album to date, sonically tighter and more accessible than anything before. Across its 13 songs, the album jumps between the confusing, mind-warping mess of deep longing and desire while shifting sounds — fixating blind belief with acoustic ballads, and agonising pleading with pulsating, imploding-with-excitement pop.
Everything I Want
Collarbones began when Whale and Cook met on a post-rock forum online in the late ’00s. The project has changed a lot over the years; their music has slid away from teenage and undergrad pretensions, where, in Whale’s own words, they approached pop like a novelty to play with.
The duo changed tack as they moved through albums, as wider views around genre snobbery faded and poptimism began to reign. You can hear the shift between debut album Iconography and 2014’s Return, the latter of which includes ‘Turning’, their biggest song to-date (bolstered by a Flume remix which saw the duo join him on-stage at Coachella).
Whale says over time they became less interested in the ideal of ‘authenticity’, citing Charli XCX‘s stretched bubblegum pop as a perfect example of something that hits hard, rather than ‘real’.
“Once we’re all self-aware about the artifice [of putting emotion into music] it somehow becomes more powerful,” he says. “It’s something weird that happens in [pop] music…we make something that is the most dramatic for the most amount of impact.”
“This is the power of pop music: it’s making many people feel like they’ve had an intimate relationship with [the song]. That happens at a grand scale, but it’s still a one-to-one relationship…. That’s why it’s so good at expressing the experience of love, and desire, and longing, not necessarily everyday partnership. It’s the fantasy, the imagined.”
This longing in pop is something Whale loves to talk about — in fact, it is something he and I have chatted about weekly for the past two years, via co-hosting a pop-leaning show on Sydney’s FBi Radio.
‘Turning’, a song about being transformed into someone else by love, hit that sweet spot, though the vibrating bass underneath suggests the change is far from the better. Its throbbing, weird synth line sweeps you up in its excitement, and makes you dance it out. Like Billie Eilish’s ‘bad guy’, ‘Turning’ revels in the sensation of sinning, or, at least, going against your better instinct.
Futurity is indulgent, but like ‘Turning’ it invites the masses in, too. While other outlets have sold the album as pop music informed by queer theory, Futurity doesn’t flex its intellectual muscles: Whale’s emotive, all-in voice is centred rather than his theories, especially thanks to the addition of softer ballads.
“[The album’s] violent in its changes because the drama of a crush or longing is unstable, and constantly changing,” he says. “The piano songs are deliberately every three songs, and right in the middle of the album it goes from the most aggressively electronic track [‘Momentary’] to the most guitar song [‘Everything I Want’] because I wanted it to go from one intense quality to a different intensity without a letup. People talk about a wall of sound, this is meant to be a wall of emotion.”
“I wanted [Futurity] to go from one intense quality to a different intensity without a letup. People talk about a wall of sound, this is meant to be a wall of emotion.”
In those softer moments (‘Church’, ‘Haunted’, ‘Everything I Want’, ‘The Gate’, ‘Lotion’), Collarbones draws upon the hazy, ultra-romantic R&B of Ryan Beatty, Frank Ocean and Kevin Abstract. Each is a master of creating a sense of geography in their music, through sampling voicemails, stray conversations and field recordings. And on Futurity, cicadas buzz in and out to situate things within languid summer nights, layered by Whale’s elastic voice, reaching with the restlessness of deep longing and desire — often elevating boys to religious figures.
“Longing and desire is about belief and faith, and so is religion,” says Whale. “And the church provides a framework for us to communicate, and share those ideas of transcendence with each other. I’m an atheist… it doesn’t need to be real, and in fact, it’s better if it’s beyond us.”
Things being better staying at the horizon is a prominent theme on the album, partially because of the fear of the reality never matching up. Futurity‘s lead single was ‘AI’, a skittering track inspired by Whale’s own three-year catfish by an internet boyfriend when he was a teen: despite many plans, they never met.
“The question of the song is “Was this real? Was any of this real?”, and that means both the person, and also my feelings,” he says. “What is real if I was just talking to a phantom?… [but desire’s] a story that you tell yourself.”
“And so, then the answer to the question is yes, it was all real… [the] only thing that matters is effect. And that’s maybe so much of [Futurity]: ‘Well, what you feel is real.'”
Collarbone’s fourth album Futurity is out now. They play Melbourne’s The Curtain on Saturday 21 September, and Sydney’s The Lansdowne on Friday 27 September, with tickets available now.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio (with Collarbones’ Marcus Whale). Follow him on Twitter.
Feature image by Ricardo Morales.