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June 15, 2012

Album Review: Friends ‘Manifest!’

by @thoughtontracks

This story has already been told once before.  The comparisons are endless and repeatedly entertaining.  Time and time again fans of the independent music scene have seen stories where the power of music brings people together.  These musicians form bands and create inspiring music that makes listeners feel happy.  These DIY musical bonds are driving creativity and innovation throughout independent music right now.  These harmonies deflect the stale and promote fresh candy for our ears.  While dozens of impromptu bonds are being fashioned through music on a weekly basis, I thought there was never a better time to promote these connections than with Brooklyn’s Friends debut release Manifest!.

In many ways Friends mirrors their New York neighbor Cults.  Both groups were formed by fate with members in the right place at the right time.  With Cults, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion met while studying film at New School and NYU.  As their friendship grew they began playing music together and recorded a few tracks for fun.  The blog world took note and Cults exploded.  Songs, “Oh My God” and “Go Outside” were going viral and channels like Sirius XMU help to compliment the growing buzz.  Cults had already established a footprint in many of our rotation even before their debut record hit the shelves.  A certain level of comfort with Cults was already established with listeners once their album dropped in June of last year.  Easy going, stripped down, feel good pop music prevailed and the buzz around Cults continued to grow.  As songs like “Abducted” and “You Know What I Mean” were released as singles the crowds grew and the shows began to sell out.  As I observe Cults following continue to grow, I can’t help to expect comparable results for Friends.

The origins of Friends began with lead singer Samantha Urbani channeling her inner creativity as she recorded a slew of songs on her computer.  Struck by an intense case of stage fright, Urbani leaned heavily on close ones for inspiration to advance her project.  In an interview with Stereogum, Urbani describes the twist of fate formation by saying,

I went away to Berlin for the summer and kept recording there, always sending songs to Matt, and Nikki [Shapiro] too. When I got back in August, Lesley (who I’ve known since 2nd grade) and Oliver [Duncan] needed to crash at my apartment for a week to get away from a bedbug infestation at their place — thx for bringing us 2gthr, b-bugs — and one night I played them a few demos… We decided to jam on the songs just for fun… That first practice went so incredibly well, we knew we had something going on.”

Replace film school with bed bugs and we can observe similar avenues that have served as catalysts for inspiration.  As I attempt to bring Cults and Friends stories together, I begin to reflect on their introductions to me.  Like Cults, the buzz on Friends began well before their album was released. Songs, “Friend Crush”, “I’m His Girl”, and “Mind Control” all entered my playlist before the release of Manifest! was released earlier this month.  A slew of great singles, a release date almost a year apart, and a subway stop away make these stories easy to pair. The final test for me was to see if I could peel back the singles and have Manifest! stick for me in the way that Cults self-titled accomplished.  After a couple weeks in my rotation I can verify that the buzz surrounding Friends was meaningful and Manifest! is a collection of songs that can be labeled indie pop with the help of a satisfying 90s R&B influence.

The percussion on this album carries a world music sound that pairs perfectly with Urbani’s voice from track to track.  The listener will have an easy time observing the persuasive percussion during track “Sorry”.  While I did take Music Appreciation in college I will admit that I always struggled with the listening section.  As I fight to identify the appropriate tools of percussion, I am engaged with the sound that those “tribal sticks” offer.  During the middle of this track a resounding chorus of oohs and  aahs offers a background vocal chant that makes me feel like I should be outside dancing.  As bongos enter the picture and bring it all together.

The hand drums carry over to next track “Home”.  A dense bass line sits atop of the vocal section of this track.  Percussion and bass are without question the backbone of Manifest!. It is reminiscent of the band’s single “I’m His Girl”, where the tingling of a triangle introduces the nastiest bass line that I have heard this year.  90’s R&B-influenced beats backed lyrics about keeping your man.  Although it is not on Manifest!, this observation came full circle when I heard their cover of Zhane’s “My Boo” that sits on the b-side of “I’m His Girl”.  As this Brooklyn bunch pulls influences from those that have influenced me, I quickly realize that not only this record and band are for me as well.  Track, “A Thing Like This” is the bread and butter of this initial release.  This song is a collection of thoughts around a feeling that we all know too well.  Pair the pipes with playful percussion and bass and the result is a track that embodies all the themes of this record.

I try to take this release along with Cults and place them in the broad picture. We live in an age where people make music in their bedrooms, put it on the internet, and then people like us talk about it.  Bands now have the opportunity to make an expedited introduction to their fan base as they take time to complete their record.  This option keeps people waiting and generates buzz, much like it has done with Friends. Spontaneous projects form every day and creativity takes over.  Let’s just hope the next DIY buzz does not have to start with a fresh batch of New York City bed bugs. Pick up your copy of Manifest! from Fat Possum.

Connect with Friends via Facebook | Twitter

Written by Brett McGrath

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