Friendly Fires – Pala (XL Recordings)
May 18, 2011 by Tshepo Mokoena
Friendly Fires aren’t doing anything by halves on this new record. Pala screams to be listened to, danced with and twirled about, like that really pushy and surprisingly beautiful girl on the dancefloor whom you never thought would be into you. In a pretty relentless barrage, the three boys from St Albans are grabbing listeners by the scruffs of their necks/collars and shaking them with thundering bass, synthesiser samples and soaring vocals. Somehow they veer from electro-pop to r’n'b and back again within the space of only a few songs. This is the world of Pala.
Likely to be the record that pushes Friendly Fires further into the mainstream spotlight, this latest offering seems hyperactively fickle on a first listen. Opener ‘Live Those Days Tonight’ sounds both contemporary and like an amped-up Balearic jam from the late 1980s. Piano chords pound beneath electro bass samples in a way that conjures up imagery of rave-binges from yesteryear. Fast forward a few songs, and the slow rumble of ‘Pala’ kicks in. It sounds almost like a TLC track that didn’t quite make it onto Crazy/Sexy/Cool: all breathy vocals, a sleazy squeal of a guitar solo and the sort of production that 90s r’n'b was made of.
What may confuse some listeners into worrying Friendly Fires have stepped too far into boyband territory are the unabashed pop elements scattered throughout the record. When “flying high” in ‘Hawaiian Air’, the trio employ Club Tropicana jubilance that will only fail to move the most stoic guests at the summer parties Pala will no doubt soundtrack this year. Comparisons to the new-rave Klaxons are perhaps too easily and lazily made for this album. Friendly Fires are actually more reminiscent of Animal Collective’s Panda Bear and Hercules And Love Affair’s muscular disco. The band are distancing themselves from current indie trends, going for a maximalist sound that revokes an era that would have been to young to actually live through the first time round.
Their calmer moments don’t disappoint, with ‘Running Away’ and closing track ‘Helpless’ buoying themselves on shimmering synth lines and near-whispered vocals from Ed McFarlane. On ‘Show Me Lights’ the boys openly put their hands up to just about every recent pop inspiration in the book. There are elements of Rihanna (that actually work), Justin Timberlake and 90s house that make it impossible to sit still as the song plays out. They’re putting their own stamp on colourful, saccharine dance-pop that spews honest emotion and spells out summer fantasies. Watch them soar.