Friday, 29 June 2012

REVIEW: Friends - Manifest!

*Originally published for the Oxford Music Blog (29/6/12)

Brooklyn’s Friends are the new funk-punks of pop, the crème de la crème of cool and, quite literally, the kind of people you want to be friends with. Stick on their debut album, Manifest!, and you’ll feel that little bit closer to their world of street parties, hedonism and don’t-give-a-fuck mantras. With last year’s, ‘I’m His Girl’, going sonic on the blogosphere, have the five piece lived up to all the hype?

Coincidentally, opener ‘Friend Crush’ is all about vocalist Samantha Urbani’s unabashed desire for friendship: “I want to be your friend, I want to ask your advice on a weekday, I want to plan something nice for the weekend.” It’s this honesty that makes her just so damn cool – sassy vocals surfing over growling bass lines and drums burning with her desire to kick start a new relationship. ‘Sorry’ is very Vampire Weekend-esque, with fluttering synths, bouncing cow bells and alternating ‘ooh/ahs’ making it also instantly likeable and soft on the ears.

As expected with a band from Brooklyn, there are the token 80s moments. ‘A Thing Like This’ is a lethargic regurgitation of effects-laden New Order guitars, RnB-kissed vocals and disco synths. The lullaby-like ‘Stay Dreaming’ is just as retro in its sound, with its lush new wave textures beaming Cocteau Twins’ ethereal sound.

Buzz-song, ‘I’m His Girl’, effortlessly demands your attention with a thumbed bass circling Urbani’s half-rapped/half-sung vocals: “When you see me walking around with him, I’m not just another chick, I’m his girl.” Rhythm lies at the heart of the song, with more of Lesley Hann’s bossy bass lines thumping against the rest of the troupe’s jungle percussion.

Unfortunately, Friends’ authenticity crumbles at ‘Ruins’ (pun intended). Two minutes of painfully try-hard thrashy and trashy post-punk spoil the preceding chic of the earlier tracks and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Furthermore, you’d be forgiven for thinking a 90s J-Lo song had gatecrashed the party in ‘Ideas of Ghosts’, with its Mediterranean guitars and pulsating bass. But at the same time there’s something quite captivating about Urbani’s unearthly wails.

Towards the end of the album, ‘Proud/Ashamed’ challenges the idea that Friends are all about rhythm. Close harmonies coo over oscillating synths and it doesn’t sound unlike Braids with its dream pop progressions and netted vocals.

But it’s ‘Van Fan Gor Du’ that really shows Friends at their best. Fresh funk pop seeps from every snare snap, hand clap or call-and-response shout. This, along with the muddy bass and bongo drums of ‘Mind Control’, sums up everything about the band. Fun.

Friends aren’t reinventing music on Manifest! or swallowing fifteen minutes of buzz-fame. They’re just hosting a party, and everyone’s invited.


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