Before yours truly was in hysterics over Husker Du, I hung my metaphorical hat on Hall & Oates. And prior to dousing my senses in all things relating to the Descendents I was diggin' on the likes of Duran Duran. My point? Well before your humble and obedient servant got hip to the indie circuit, my budding tastes were situated on mainstream and Top 40 acts. This was in the early-to-mid '80s just as the window was about to slam irrevocably shut on quality household-name fare. Circa 1984 you could still routinely find genuinely smart songs on the "straight and narrow" on FM frequencies above 92.1. Alas, It wouldn't be long before my tastes became more selective and radio playlists became more homogenized. I moved on, and never quite looked back save for some nicely rebooted reissues from the likes of Tears For Fears and A Flock of Seagulls.
But what if a band/artist came along, say in the mid 20-teens, that angled squarely in the direction of the mainstream but boasted material of such high caliber that they were anything but a guilty pleasure? Enter Fickle Friends, an impeccably bright and buoyant co-ed, fivesome from Brighton, England. Before delving much further, most, if not all of you are not accustom to me touting dance-pop records, let alone one this consistently upbeat. Time to kick that tradition to the curb, because FF's debut, You Are Someone Else is a fantastic and flabbergasting anomaly of an album. Spearheaded by Natassja "Natti" Shiner, the Friends function at an often breathless pace, but it isn't so much the euphoric tempos that propel them into a field of their own, rather an alluring sophistication. Over the course of YASE's sixteen songs, Natti and crew cut a sleek, cosmopolitan swath brimming with plush, sumptuous bass, interspersed with spicy guitar fills and some occasional wonky keyboard affectations. Fickle Friends are one of those rare entities that benefit from their liberally applied polish and sheen. I can't recall a band that was this nimble and proficient, yet thoroughly approachable.
Not only does YASE pump, pique and lusciously provoke in every conceivable direction, it's an embarrassment of melodic riches. Monster hooks to the hilt infuse and embed every pore of "Brooklyn," "Lovesick," "Say No More," "Glue," and then some - or more like all. And even when the tension is ratcheted up on romantic quandaries like "Wake Me Up" and "Midnight," Fickle Friends manage to wind everything down their neon-tinted path as smooth as silk. There are no legit ballads, per se to be had here, yet the album is strikingly diverse and nuanced in spite of their thankful sidestepping of such mundanities.
This crew deals in genuinely infectious dance grooves without catering to insipid teeny boppers. How often does that sort of agile negotiation present itself? It's the kind of record you can play in your bedroom when chilling with your bestie on your hamburger phone, yet would simultaneously sound every bit as relevant pouring out of the speakers in a dimly lit nightclub. And above all else, the Friends have honest to goodness songs that indelibly sink in like so much India ink on a rented tux. Practically, a double album's worth of singles unto itself, YASE offers little if any filler, just potential hit-after-hit - "Heartbroken," "Hello, Hello," and "Swim," some of which actually were singles dispensed online over the course of the last three years.
To some, You Are Someone Else may not be a revelation in the most creative sense of the phrase, but in the deluge of empty calories drowning radio stations and streaming venues, Fickle Friends stand in a markedly chic light of their own, and are likely the sweetest confection to emanate from the British isles in years. They're currently tearing it up live in Europe, have three New York and Cali dates later this spring, and a more exhaustive tour of America is to come this fall. For those of you Stateside, Amazon is your best route to buy a physical copy of the record, and there are a variety of digital options to choose from here.
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