(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Recording review - Friend Slash Lover, The Grey Area (2012)

Dynamic tension and rich arrangements drive this emotional album

On their last EP, As American As Ones and Zeros (review), Friend Slash Lover had a lighter feel with clever titles and some witty lines.

The new EP, The Grey Area explores the band's moody, emo side. They still casually drop some great lyrical lines, especially in S2PD HMN, but the songs have a darker undertone as they're weighed down with worry and loss. Despite the heavier feel, Friend Slash Lover still has a great sense of dynamics and rich arrangements.

The lightest tracks, The Grey Area and Carry Your Weight offer some pretty musical moments, but they're still shrouded in regret. The instrumentation on Carry Your Weight is especially nice. The electronic intro serves up a nice arpeggiated verse. Strings filter in as the bass line starts.
Up and away, that's how I am in my dreams
I'd stay awake, if it meant that I never had to
Sleep and pretend to be
Flying when I don't believe
The bridge brings a frisson of threat that expands the scope of the track, even as it builds in volume. The song structure doesn't worry about a standard verse chorus approach but still creates its own ebb and flow.

By contrast, S2PD HMN starts out dark and moody and retains that feel. The heavy staccato punch creates an immediate tension. I love the opening line:
I couldn't secure the rights to sing about love tonight.
So I've been forced to plagiarize...
There's still a strong sense of dynamic tension, but the stakes stay high. The title is a reference to frontman Josh Mintz's earlier stage name. The modern rock crescendo of the chorus, "I know just what you want: what everybody seems to want" is anthemic.

The Grey Area also includes a cover of XTC's Dear God. While the vocals are a fairly straight rendition of the original, the music's electronic elements and heavy bass beat update the track to modern aesthetics. It might have been interesting to push the arrangement further in that direction. It's amazing, though, how the song seems so much less controversial than it did back in 1986, despite the wider religio-cultural divide we have today.

Friend Slash Lover still indulge in overwrought, emotional vocals, tempered by thoughtful dynamics and subtle arrangements. The Grey Area may reflect more pressure, but the band still has a core of musical strength.

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