Friends Manifest!(Lucky Number) Buy it from Insound
Anyone who has listened to a few hours of college radio in the past six months has at some point heard the sound of Friends. Since the release of their immaculately funky single I’m His Girl, the anticipation surrounding their debut has only been growing. It’s not surprising: from the single, Friends seem to have a rare chemistry that radiates a natural cool and a laidback swagger. The percussion is heavy and exotic, the synth presence is minimalist, almost ambient, the bass lines are well-schooled in early 70s funk, and singer Samantha Urbani sounds like she could become one of the most enticing voices in indie rock to come. The following singles since I’m His Girl have only built on this impression: Friend Crush, which opens their debut – Manifest! – is indie pop with a distinct R&B influence, and Mind Control is a post-punk ode to anti-government. However, while these singles and several songs from their debut show a band with the capability to rise over the monotony of dance punk , there are moments when Friends are unaware of when their retro appeal is…well, appealing.
As John Travolta says in the end of Pulp Fiction, “personality goes a long way,” and it’s a phrase that applies to Manifest! When Friends utilize their own collective personality, it takes away from what we view as lifted. Anyone could hear that Urbani is the focal center of Friends’ personality, so when she takes what could be, by any other band, a regurgitated song about seeking forgiveness (Sorry) and adds the perspective of someone who doesn’t deal in ideals (“the situation’s not progressing and ethically it’s pretty fucked”), it’s an immediate success. The personality completes itself when the rest of the band reflects her rejection of idealism by taking the influence of Spector-era girl groups and removing the romanticized symphonic grandeur.
Unfortunately, not every song on Manifest! works so well. Ruins drags through a post-punk influenced haze with Urbani channeling a sedated Siouxsie Sioux. By the end of Proud/Ashamed and into Stay Dreaming, the overbearing influence of This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins is oppressive. Elsewhere, one can’t help but notice that Manifest! is not consistent with the sassy, sexy impression that won them fans in the first place.
As mentioned before, it’s when Friends stick to their guns that Manifest! can be mistaken for a promising debut from a young Brooklyn band. There are excellent songs to be heard on this album aside from the singles, such as Sorry and Va Fan Gör Du, mostly because they are fun, sexy, and, best of all, honest. When Friends get down to it, the energy that brought them together dictates the making of half-profound statements in retro R&B funk jams; and frankly, the result is brilliant. It’s why so many have gravitated to I’m His Girl. Yet, when they explore other avenues, the band seem unable to hide their influence and consequently come off as half-hearted.10 July, 2012 - 10:02 — David Hogg