New Yorkers’ magpie approach produces a surprisingly singular sound on this debut set.
Nick Levine 2012-06-01
How trendy is this mixed-gender outfit from Brooklyn? So trendy that they get away with calling themselves Friends, a band name that would sound naff even if it didn't evoke memories of attractive people with 1990s haircuts slurping lattes from oversized mugs.
They're the sort of insouciant posse who apparently "have a reputation for turning live gigs into spontaneous DIY parties (and vice versa)". Thankfully, Friends really earned their hipster stripes with a couple of buzz singles last year. I'm His Girl and Friend Crush both appear here, and though they're highlights, they don't eclipse the rest of this generally impressive debut LP.
The Friends sound is tricky to pin down. There's a lot of bolshy, tropical-sounding percussion snuggling up to rumbling, funky basslines, a potentially scratchy combination that's softened by their pop melodies and girl-groupy backing vocals. Think ESG bumping rumps with Tom Tom Club in a downtown disco while Blondie look on with aloof approval.
However, Manifest! couldn't be mistaken for a mixtape called something like Cool Sounds of NYC: 1980-83. Friends are too fresh and too fond of tossing something unexpected into the broth. There's a 1990s RnB feel to the melody of I'm His Girl, while A Thing Like This has a hook that recalls The Jackson 5. Other tracks nick tricks from New Order, Pretenders and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Magpies they may be, but Friends always seem to end up sounding most like Friends. It helps that they have a singer as charismatic and versatile as Samantha Urbani: she sighs, she sort-of-raps, she even yelps like Lene Lovich. Her forte, however, is affecting the perfect blend of sexy and yearning: the way she sings the word "intimate" on Home could give a nun a hot flush.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that Manifest! doesn't get it right every time. A whiff of noodliness creeps into album closer Mind Control, while Ruins is little more than a half-formed off-cut, and a derivative one at that. Still, the odd flaw isn't enough to spoil this record's overall likeability. After all, how many Friends are perfect when you really get to know them?