Boy Friend is the latest project by self-professed ‘best buds’ Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown, both formerly of Sleep ∞ Over, which broke up in 2010. Those familiar with Sleep ∞ Over will instantly recognise the lush reverb-drenched synth-driven sound that runs throughout on debut LP Egyptian Wrinkle, and those who are not familiar with their previous work but like their music to lean towards the fantastical may rejoice, for this an album that aims to teleport you to a magical realm. In a parallel universe somewhere, not entirely dissimilar our own, David Lynch has taken Epgyptian Wrinkle and set it to the moving image of a dancing dwarf.
This journey to a land once inhabited by The Cocteau Twins is achieved in no small part by some clever writing. It may be a simple trick, but when you hear the instrumental opening track Rogue Waves I increase in tempo, so gradually it’s almost impreceptible, it feels organic and refreshing. In the land of today’s sequencer-dominated electronic music it is all too tempting for the artist to set the pace for a track and leave it static, so this gradual shift conjures up some ambiguity that sets the tone for the rest of the album. It is defined by its subtle breadth. There is scope in the way the disorientating verse passages fall into the triumphant chorus on Bad Dream, before launching straight into the wonky pop of Lovedropper. Later, on the title track there are neat little transitions in mood and key, which propel the song forward without resorting to repetition, making it familiar and unpredictable at the same time.
The melodies here are pretty catchy, without being trite, which is a characteristic of all decent imaginative Fantasy Pop. The voice never sits at the forefront of the sound, but always just underneath the surface, drowned in reverb. Certainly they seem to regard the vocal as an instrument rather than the means of putting across the lyrics, which are pretty much indecipherable throughout. It drifts in the synthetic haze, sailing in a register higher than the organs and other instruments fear to tread.
The way the vocals sit in the mix works well for the best part. But where the album falls slightly flat is the production. The atmosphere throughout is certainly dreamy, but with such a narrow sonic palette it’s a very monochromatic dream. The reverb sounds great, creating a plush and spacious ambience around the synths and vocals, but did they have to use it so much? And that’s a cool drum machine they have, but could they not have offered us some variety in the actual sounds? There seems to be a stubborn reluctance to tailor the sound to the track, and it leaves the album a little short of contrast and relief. Those gorgeous ethereal moments such as the a capella Breathe and closing track Rogue Wave II might have sounded all the more expansive if they’d allowed sharper focus on the more direct songs like Love Dropper and Lazy Hunter.
One can imagine that before recording began, Palazzolo and Brown drew up a manifesto prohibiting them from giving full rein to their pop instincts, and that the reverb unit was to be left on until a year after completion, just in case. While it’s sometimes beneficial for an artist to shackle themselves a little in order to force their imagination in new directions, in this instance it leaves the listener frustrated, wondering what might have been.