Brooklyn five-piece Friends are a girl-fronted indie pop group formed after lead singer Samantha Urbani began recording songs on her computer, which she then sent to friends Matthew Molnar (keyboards, percussion) and Nikki Shapiro (guitar). The quintet was completed when two more Urbani’s friends – Lesley Hann (bass) and Oliver Duncan (drums) – had to stay at her apartment to, of all things, escape a bedbug infestation.
The quintet began jamming under the name of Perpetual Crush and threw themselves into practice shortly afterwards, playing a few shows in Urbani’s old back yard. It’s easy to see why the band settled on the moniker of Friends, even if a certain sitcom of the same name means searching for them on Google often leads to pictures of Ross and Rachel popping up. The dynamic of the band undoubtedly suits their name, in fact Hann has been friends with Urbani since the second grade. But has their debut LP, entitled Manifest!, lived up to the hype that saw Friends make the BBC Sound Of 2012 list?
The album starts off strongly with single Friend Crush leading the way with its repetitive drum beat, shimmering keys and rumbling bass. Urbani’s effortless sultry vocal perfectly fits the relaxing sound of the song, as she sings: “I wanna be your friend/I wanna ask your advice on a week day/ I wana plan something nice for the weekend.” It’s followed by the airy and tropical sounds of Sorry, with Hann’s bass chugging away as chants of ‘ohh’ and ‘ahh’ add to the quirky little tune.
Friends’ rise has been reminiscent of The Drums – the Brooklyn act made the BBC Sound Of… in 2010 – and there are some similarities in sound too. Take Friends’ signature single, I’m His Girl, where the ridiculously infectious bassline and rhythmic beat combines with Urbani’s strutting vocal to create a highly catchy tune. It’s the sort of song that could dwarf the rest of the album, but it’s to their credit that it doesn’t.
A Thing Like This is another bass dominated track, one which sees Urbani utilise a more cutesy vocal as a shuffling beat and flickering guitar come together for an intoxicating listening experience. While Home also shows that Friends are by no means one hit wonders, with an effervescent beat and funky bassline demonstrating exactly why many have drawn comparisons with the Tom Tom Club. Meanwhile, Ideas On Ghosts changes things up again, its swelling atmospherics and enchanting melody forming an oddly beautiful chorus.
Manifest! is not without its weaknesses, though. Ruins is a strange track that plods along with no real emphasis or direction, while the lo-fi and hushed sound of A Light also fails to ignite the imagination with its worming synth line and stop-start bass. However, the album recovers from these blemishes to finish strongly, with the shoegaze pop of Stay Dreaming and the sassy Va Fan Gor Du returning to the captivating hooks of the opening songs.
Friends’ debut album could very well be one of the soundtracks to the summer, with their heavy use of percussion setting them apart from other similar Brooklyn acts. Unfortunately, there are times when Manifest! feels muddled, and consequently it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the releases from their fellow BBC Sound Of… artists. However, Friends’ debut LP should provide an excellent platform for the quintet to go on to bigger and better things.