Boston based band Friendly People have been around for a couple of years and have released a song here or there on youtube and the like. They have played live in front of cameras often and were quite capable of turning people on to their energetic and heartfelt live performances before they had ever recorded anything for release. As their debut record “Shake” (which you can stream at the bottom of this article while you read) hit the scene in mid-December, they were already on the radar for many and have even managed to arrive on some end-of-the-year polls for top albums of 2012. Strong work for a fresh band that brings excellent energy to age-old indie rock, alt-country, and folk pop songwriting.
The record starts out with “Here We Are”, a very natural sounding interplay of meter with interchanging 6/4 and 4/4 that illuminates both their singing ability and instrumental prowess. In the next “New York,” lead singer Pat McCusker adopts a modified vocal delivery as he describes with excitement meeting someone in NYC who ignites intrigue in that butterflies-in-my-stomach kind of way.
“Branches” plays out with McCusker questioning himself when faced with external criticism, relying on thudding percussion and bright guitar lines to keep him standing. Fourth track “A Way Home” plods bluntly and sparsely before a beautiful unfolding of bass and drums propel the track forward into one of the record’s more rewarding choruses.
The fifth track, “Move”, gets going with percussive acoustic guitar rising out of a wall of reverb eventually segueing into playful lyrics and lively vocals which do well to keep the listener attentive over the consistent staccato guitar work. The next number, “Maps”, starts with what sounds like washboard and lo-fi guitar that drips with a gypsy dance sound that contrasts well with southwestern guitar melodies surrounding the choruses, only to end with a more meditative instrumental about-face which is most welcome and unexpected.
Friendly People’s Friendly People
Moving on to what is probably the best of the record, “A Lot of Work to Do” is perhaps the best example of the band’s true essence. Reflective lyrics are delivered over mature guitar work and the track erupts into McCuster’s hollering that reaches into the hearts of the listener and grab them up onto their feet to join in the emotionally rich indie rock head-banger climax. McCuster gut-wrenchingly begs “so cheer up for me honey, I wanna see your pretty face one more time. I want you to believe me, I want you to believe me. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” and the band keeps in impeccable rhythm and harmony to plead his case to his unnamed lover. The band’s carrying of the instrumental break with the extremely heartfelt harmony “we got a lot of work to do” is a sincere highlight to the entire record.
The aptly titled track “Friendly People” comes out punching and maintains the energy with a singable quality that harkens to Band of Horses style hard strummed alt-country. This proves the first of a one-two punch of tracks with the next track “Speak” the closest thing to an over-driven rock anthem on the record.
The closing track, clocking in at 8 minutes, is “The Rules”. It’s a fine track which starts out as a lament with great meditative reverb slide guitar enhancing McCuster’s apathetic fly-the-white-flag lyrics. This opening leads to a reversal of heart when the band explodes with McCuster’s recognition that it’s “time to let go” and coordinated chord strikes bring to the listener’s attention that there is always a return to form and an excitement about life just around the corner. The shimmering end to the record is one of the strongest moments, the decompression much appreciated after so many opulent instrumental crescendos track after track.
Far and away, the most impressive aspect to the record is the epic swells in the latter half of most tracks with consistent driving rhythms and the occasional unexpected silent beat that gathers momentum and functions as a calm before the enormous instrumental follow-through. The band’s two percussionists give the record potential for thundering depth, but the band decidedly excels at playing softly with great impact. They play with patience; the shortest song on the record is 4:15, and only two songs are less than 5 minutes in duration. This patience allows them to fully squeeze the most impact out of their crescendos, with the rush of noise sounding far larger by comparison to the gentle beginnings. This rush of noise is the breakout moment where each track realizes its full potential and to learn of the number of instruments and additional musicians used in the record is impressive in its own right.
Vocally, Pat McCusker has a delivery that can play chameleon in each track as necessary, sounding at different times similar to John Bell from Widespread Panic, Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and Win Butler from Arcade Fire to name a few. Though this can at times lead away from a sense of singularity in the record, it displays the diversity of his influences when assuming the role of an emotive and expressive front-man. In one song he can progress from backwoods folk quietness to all out screaming delivery and miraculously he nails the timing of when to utilize this oft misused skill.
The hooks, mostly in the choruses and a verse here or there, flow fine for the most part but have less hook than the band might be going for. The lyrics commonly feel forced into the space allotted for the melody and sometimes fail to keep the full focus of the listener. However, this ultimately plays to the favor of the movement of each song as a whole. The listener’s attention focuses more on the development of the song as a full accumulation of sound and energy rather than relying on a hook to trigger the reward center of the brain. And by the same token, while the lyrics are reflective and mature, the band presents its lyrics in a way that is less poetry and more elbow grease. This record is less likely to garner huge acceptance from the literary crowd that follows bands like The National, The Hold Steady, Springsteen and the like. But where those bands often fail to reach an instrumental climax on the level of their lyrics, Friendly People hits the mark with a record most any musician will respect for its momentous instrumental prowess and emotionally riveting climaxes that propel the humbling lyrics out to a crowd. The listener is aware immediately that the band presents songs as a whole and that the lyrics and the musicianship are balanced for a more cohesive presentation.
That a band can have this kind of chemistry and focus in their first record is exciting to say the least, and serves as a very compelling reason to follow this Boston band as they solidify their sound and continue to expand the reach of their songwriting in the future.
Written by Case Newsom
OurVinyl | Contributor