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Friends: Manifest

Friends are a 5 piece Brooklyn band, not yet two years old, who you might have noticed gathered a lot of buzz back at the end of 2011. Their name suggests a kind of exclusivity- An ambiguous Google search nightmare that means if you want to find them you really have to want to get in to that proverbial club and besides, your hair’s probably not cool enough and you’re not even on the list. So is it worth the hassle? Their debut album, Manifest!, is here to present its case.

‘Friend Crush’ is the album opener and probably the song you’re most familiar with (if you’re familiar at all- Such is the relentless pace of “hot new bands” that buzz tends to turn into a relentless white noise it’s easy to ignore) It rolls along sparsely while vocalist Samantha Urbani husks over the top with child-like sentiment, “I wanna be your friend/I wanna ask your advice in everything”. Her vocal melody is sweet but trapped in a song that doesn’t pack any energy.

neglects interesting melodies

The same can be said for ‘Sorry’, which, while interspersed with tribal vocal sections and playful organs, is cute but totally un-spectacular and strikes you as a filler track rather than part of a thrilling introduction to a band. ‘Home’ boasts tropical drums but again relies too heavily on the percussive side and neglects interesting melodies. However, things turn pleasantly fuzzier on ‘A Light’ and the faster-paced ‘Ideas On Ghosts’ employs synths and a 1980s soft disco feel with Urbani’s vocals set to impossibly high pitch while the track is executed moodily without too much kitsch.

‘Ruins’ sees Urbani rapping and shrieking over a post-punky curveball of a track with a pulsing bass and jerky, wayward guitars, and it proves to be an unexpected treat. If they had more songs in their repertoire that sounded like this they’d win me over effortlessly but that’s on account of my personal taste being tied up unconditionally with snotty punk girls. “So when you see me walking around with him I’m not just another chick/I’m his girl” she pouts on ‘I’m his girl’, a disco-tainted, sparky little number that has bite. ‘Proud/Ashamed’ and ‘Stay Dreaming’ are low-key and warmer sounding than the rest but remain too light and throwaway to pay much attention to. But ‘Va Fan Gör Du’s chanting vocal harmonies and upbeat rhythm are endearingly fun and as good a song as any to sum up the feeling of, basically, fancying someone loads.

Very safe and too stylish to be properly interesting

In the end though it all goes over my head a little and personal feeling on it is ultimately one of a shrug. Their choruses aren’t strong enough, not pop enough, not catchy enough and their songs are often quite forgettable. If they were your friends they’d be the friends who are a little too lofty, who stay at the bar looking cool and sweat-free rather than risk the indignity of dancing like an idiot. The ones you’d regret getting into a conversation with all too quickly. They are the musical equivalent of a tonal outfit- Very safe and too stylish to be properly interesting. Most of Manifest! seems to just roll along on one surface layer, uninterested in engaging with challenging sounds or shaking anything up.

In my mind it recalls the likes of Fan Death – cold, impersonal disco that lacks the hooks and excitement that I demand from pop music. Doubtless, there will be plenty here that will charm fans of the stripped back neo-disco genre but it admittedly leaves me cold and doubtful as to whether they warranted the attention they courted and the doe-eyed press gushing that signalled their arrival on the music scene.

Inconsequential seems a very mean term to level at a band’s debut but that is unfortunately what Manifest! is to me- Not terrible, just not terribly exciting either. Its livelier moments- Va Fan Gör Du, Ruins- hint at a band that has the potential to be vividly spirited but for now, they’re just not the kind of Friends I want.

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