How good must you have to be? How much faith in your own ability must you have? How long before you're the default that pops up on any search engine? If you're a relatively new band with a name synonymous with popular culture of an entirely different nature, you must be brilliant, extremely confident and have an enormous belief in yourself and your material. Rather than taking a more traditional route and naming your band something completely individual and unambiguous, some newer bands, namely Fun and now Friends (Having decided against Perpetual Crush) seem to have chosen a more challenging route to market. Having formed, practiced and gigged within six days and recorded within a calendar month, Friends clearly have a will and desire whose example would leap off the page of any self-development 'How To Be ...' management book. So are Friends (incidentally not named after a Beach Boys album or an Elton John song) the real deal, all smoke and mirrors, over-hyped and over here or justifiably acclaimed?
The momentum with which the Friends phenomenon has moved since they formed back in September 2010, has not yet reached terminal velocity but it is gathering pace. If Samantha Urbani, singer-song writer of the band, had had her way it may have moved even quicker. 'It's best to get shit done when you're inspired', she says. Samantha is not one to be over picky, preferring instead to act in the moment. Having been inspired to act after returning from Berlin to a trashed sub-let apartment and feeling quite depressed, Samantha and Friends have hardly had time to look back. 'Manifest!, the Brooklyn 5 piece's debut album release, represents another major milestone and, what's more, it is brim full of top ('Ex-Pop) tunes. She may be right when she says, 'Pop gets a bad wrap', but there is nothing manufactured, plastic or artificial about 'Manifest!' and, subsequently, nothing that could be conceived as bad.
One of the band's singles from last year, 'Friend Crush', heads up the roll call. The reverberating keys loop the hook that sits neatly aside the tight percussion as Samantha's slightly disaffected vocals smoulder throughout. 'Sorry', the other track to have been recorded a month after the band's inception, is up next. The higher vocal suits the more perky nature of the score with the seemingly ever-present wood blocks providing some terrific accessorization. 'A Thing Like This' takes a more relaxed and funky stance underpinned by another great Lesley Hann bass line. 'Ideas On Ghosts' and 'Ruins' take on more alternative guises, the latter especially feeling more like the Yeah Yeah Yeah's doing a Creatures cover than anything likely to trouble the Top 40. Another of 2011's singles, 'I'm His Girl', re-frames the balance with a narrative, Neneh Cherry flavoured, slap-bass fuelled funky disco vibe that touches on Tom Tom Club territory.
The most harmonic and melodic tracks come late on in the form of the softer 'Proud/Ashamed' and then 'Stay Dreaming'. Samantha's vocal is smoother and there is a tenderness within the songs that is not as evident elsewhere. The album is closed out by the band's latest single 'Mind Control' (incidentally the only track not mixed by Friends, but by Paul Epworth). Dubbed the 'The hottest record in the world' on BBC Radio 1, it is indeed a fine way to see out 'Manifest!'. 'Mind Control' is like a 'best of' amalgam of all that's preceded it. The bass line bubbles, the percussive elements work to compliment the toxic arrangement and the playful, schizo vocals jump about all over the place.
'Manifest!' by Friends is a vibrant, virile and volatile mixture of Pop, Funk, Disco and electro sensibilities (although Samantha would beg to differ) that is all wrapped up in fabulous package of twelve stirring tracks that combine brilliantly to happily defy pigeon-holing. If all pop bands were this good, there would be no decline in record sales.
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